Master Archivist Ianto Jones sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose and knocking his glasses out of place. He stretched, his back cracking painfully as he slid off the stool he’d been sitting on for…how many hours now? He glanced up at the chronometer and grimaced…five hours gone, and the translation on this particular scroll was going very wrong, even with the help of the glasses.
He sighed again, reaching for his cup…and then spitting the cold – and scummy – coffee back out again. Ianto carefully gathered up the scroll he’d been working on, tucking the delicate parchment back into its tube, then once his kidskin gloves were lying neatly on the desk took his cup and left the archive, heading back up into the well-lit and lived-in sections of Torchwood Castle.
Working for the current Baron and Baroness of Cardiff was almost as close to a dream job as Ianto could get. He’d been employed there for five years, and had been Head Archivist for two of those, ever since they’d learned of his…special talents. It was a lofty position for someone so young, and the older archivists under him didn’t much appreciate Ianto’s jump in seniority. But Ianto accepted their ire with a quiet smile, and did his job to the best of his ability. It was the only thing he could really do.
The stairs spilled him out near the kitchens, which was Ianto’s destination. This time of day the lunch preparations would be almost done, and he could get a fresh cup of coffee and perhaps a bite to eat, before heading back down into the archives. The smells coming from the kitchens were making his stomach rumble; the muffin he’d had for breakfast had been a long time ago.
The friendly shout greeted him as he entered the main kitchen. “Mistress Heather,” he greeted the Head Cook in his quiet voice, which she seemed perfectly capable of hearing over the clatter of the working cooks and maids.
The matronly Head of Kitchen smiled from a face flushed with exertion. “You spend too much time down in those musty archives. You’re as pale as milk, you are…”
Ianto stifled the smile that threatened to arise on his face, preferring to keep a stern look even though he was secretly amused by the woman’s fussing. “I am perfectly fine, thank you.”
“Just as you say, Master Ianto,” Heather’s smile didn’t fade as she accepted his mock rebuke. This bickering was normal for the two of them. “I have some lovely meat pastries if you’re ready for your lunch.”
“Thank you,” he said politely, moving out of the way of a pair of young boys, who were carrying between them a spitted chunk of meat for the evening’s dinner.
“You’re welcome,” Heather answered, waving him over to the counter. “Just let me get you a fresh cup too, dear.”
Ianto handed the cup over. Truthfully, he preferred preparing his own coffee, but Mistress Heather’s own brew wasn’t half bad. And he was feeling a bit lazy. That scroll was irritating him to no end…
He bumped the glasses back up on his nose as Heather brought him a plate and his freshly-filled cup. “You should eat more; you’re like a little bird…”
Ianto didn’t dignify that with a response. She was always trying to fatten him up. “Thank you again, Mistress Heather.”
“No problem, dear. If you want more, just ask.”
Ianto took his plate and cup back down to the archives, where he could eat in peace. He actually preferred being alone; with his papers, scrolls and books. He’d taken quite a bit of time that first year of responsibility in reorganizing, since the last master archivist had been a bit of a procrastinator when it had come to putting things in their proper places. Which, of course, one of the reasons why he hadn’t lasted long in the position. Torchwood Castle needed to be organized, if it meant to fulfill its mission.
And Ianto took that mission very seriously indeed.
Setting his plate and cup on his work desk, Ianto pulled his stool back up and sat down. The lamp over the desk cast pleasant beams of light over the shelves with their neatly stacked books and scrolls that surrounded the work area. The archives themselves extended many hundreds of feet back into the bedrock that formed the foundation of the great castle…and Ianto knew every inch.
He ate quickly yet fastidiously, the meat pies as good as always. Once his stomach was full, Ianto set the plate aside, then pulled his kidskin gloves back on, the best to not damage the delicate parchment that unfurled from its tube and onto the desk.
Then Ianto readjusted his glasses, letting his mind relax. Then he blinked once.
The ancient language on the scroll began to wriggle and move on its own, rearranging into words that Ianto might actually be able to read. This was one of his many talents: the ability to tap into the magic of the glasses, to be able to mesh their power with his own brain. He’d been the first in three generations of scholars to be able to do so, and that had made him very valuable to the Baroness. It had precipitated his rise to Master Archivist…and had incurred the jealousy of the other archivists who worked among the shelves and vaults of Torchwood Castle.
Of course, there were other reasons he’d been promoted…not that anyone else had understood that. The rumors had been particularly vicious. But of course Ianto had simply smiled slightly and let them talk. He knew the truth, as did the Baroness and Baron. False claims against him wouldn’t hurt him in the least.
Ianto could feel the power of the glasses in his head as he stared at the words on the scroll. He’d never considered himself a magical person, but that had changed when he’d accidentally touched one of the many Artifacts the castle housed…and it had activated. That had led to the Testing…and to him gaining the designation Catalyst, someone who could bring out the magic in items when no one else could.
It pleased him, in more ways than he could count. He liked the idea of being special, even though he often did his best to keep to the background, so that people didn’t notice him.
There…some of the words were making a little sense. Ianto reached for a pen and paper, writing down what he would read. The fragment “touch of death and life” jumped out at him, and he scribbled it hastily, knowing he’d have to translate his own handwriting once he was done. He had to keep his eyes on the parchment, and writing blind meant that no one would be able to read his notes later.
More words were becoming clear. Ianto kept writing, knowing the magic of the glasses would fade the more tired he became. There were still huge gaps in the translation; he would have many more days to work on it. But from just what he was getting now, Ianto knew he had something important.
And when he was done, and his head was aching from the use of the magic, Ianto called to one of the apprentices.
“Brandon,” he said, once the boy was present, “go and ask the Baroness’ secretary for an audience with Her Grace at once…”
The Baroness Gwen Williams of Cardiff smiled as her Master Archivist bowed, his silver-rimmed magical glasses catching the sunlight from the large windows in the Baroness’ salon.
As always, Ianto’s trousers and jacket were impeccable…even though Gwen knew he’d come from the archives. Most who worked down there had a tendency to be dusty and rumpled…but not Ianto Jones. Sometimes she wondered if it wasn’t a part of his personal magic, this perpetual neatness of appearance. It was a miracle in any case.
“You have something for me?” she asked, bidding him rise.
Ianto nodded, coming closer. He held a scroll case in one gloved hand, and a piece of regular paper in the other.
Gwen waved him over to her desk, and the archivist was happy to oblige. Ianto carefully removed the scroll from its case, rolling it out onto the polished oak of the desk. He used a pair of paperweights – gifts from her husband, Rhys – to anchor the scroll into place.
The writing made no sense to her. It looked as if someone had spilled spaghetti noodles onto the parchment, then arranged them into random loops and whorls. Gwen frowned. “What is this?” she asked.
“I can’t confirm the language,” Ianto answered, “although I suspect it’s one of the ancient forest dialects. The glasses did have a fair hard time translating, but I did manage to get this.” He rested the paper on top of the parchment, revealing partial sentences in Ianto’s careful hand.
Gwen read what he’d managed to discover.
Touch of life and death…
Gauntlet of Resurrection….
Beware the Death Everlasting.
The Immortality of the Deathless.
“I’ve heard of this,” she murmured. “The Immortality of the Deathless. That’s an old myth, isn’t it?”
Ianto nodded solemnly. “It’s about a man who cannot die, who supposedly wanders the world looking for a way to end his wretched existence.”
Gwen nodded. Of course, she was familiar with the tale. It was one that her mother had told her as a child, and it still had the power to make her unbelievably sad. “He was cursed, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, by a witch of great power who thought she was doing the right thing by bringing him back from death…but whose spell went horribly wrong and cursed him with immortality instead of just new life. And when he found her again…she was unable to reverse what she’d done.”
Ianto was silent, which Gwen took as agreement. She went back to reading the Archivist’s notes.
The Everlasting Life shall become the Everlasting Death.
The Great and Terrible Gauntlet…do not let it control you or you shall be lost for all Eternity.
Look to the North…
Gwen chewed her lip in a decidedly unladylike manner. “You think this is another Artifact, don’t you?”
“I do, yes. Else I wouldn’t have brought it to your attention.”
The Baroness trusted his judgment. “Just what does this Gauntlet do, do you think?” She had a fair idea, but wanted to hear Ianto’s ideas on the subject.
“It sounds to me as if it has the power over life and death.”
“Which would make it terribly powerful.”
Once again, Ianto was silent. But then, he didn’t need to say anything. What he’d said jibed with what Gwen had come up with on her own.
She summoned her maid, asking to have the Baron join them. The girl curtseyed, then left the room. “How much more can you translate?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” the Archivist admitted. “The glasses are having difficulty with the language. I’ll keep trying, of course.”
“Don’t overstrain yourself, Ianto. I wouldn’t want my Head Archivist to do himself an injury.”
Even though she’d said it lightly, Gwen could tell that Ianto was affronted by her comment. “I do know what I’m doing, Your Grace.”
“I never meant to intimate you didn’t.”
He bowed his head slightly, not saying anything.
The silence was broken by the arrival of Rhys, Gwen’s husband and Baron of Cardiff. Rhys was a handsome man, usually smiling and ready with a quip. Today though, he was looking somewhat perturbed. “Is it important?” he asked.
“Did I interrupt something important?” Gwen asked apologetically, placing a kiss on his cheek.
“Just some of the guilds deciding the current agreements are “detrimental to free trade”,” he answered, using his fingers to air-quote the last part of that statement. “They’re the ones who set the bloody agreements up in the first place. Don’t know what they expect me to do about them.” Then he noticed they weren’t alone. “Ah, hello Ianto,” he greeted with a smile. “I take this is might be somewhat more important than the bickering of a few greedy guildmasters.”
“I’m rather afraid it is, Rhys,” Gwen answered. “We may have discovered an Artifact.”
Rhys whistled. “That’s the first one in this year. How sure are we?”
“Fairly sure,” she answered. She explained what she and Ianto had talked about, showing her husband the notes the Archivist had made. As usual, Ianto let her do the talking, only offering his input when needed. It was at times such as this that Gwen wished he was a little more assertive, but she accepted that Ianto just wasn’t that way.
By the time she was done, Rhys was nodding. “Sure sounds like it’s something we should check out.” He smiled. “After all, that’s what we do.”
Gwen nodded. Torchwood Castle was responsible for containing some of the most dangerous magical devices in the Kingdom; that had long been the purview of Gwen’s family, that and the tracking down of said Artifacts and making certain they didn’t fall into the wrong hands.
She glanced over at Ianto; for over hundreds of years, Gwen’s family had amassed a veritable mountain of old documents, in all sorts of old and/or dead languages. This was what made the job of Head Archivist so important… that said Archivist be able to use the magical glasses that had also been in her family for generations.
Her parents had despaired of finding anyone who could fill that place. The previous three Archivists hadn’t been able to meld their minds with the magic, and so the archive had suffered.
And then had come Ianto Jones.
That had been a miracle. He’d never once been Tested for magic, his family having been considered too low to have that sort of blood running in their veins. Magic had always been the bailiwick of the privileged, and that was something that Ianto wasn’t.
It had been purest serendipity that the young man had touched that Artifact. Otherwise they might not even know now of his ability as a Catalyst.
They wouldn’t now know about this potential Artifact.
“I shall try to get more from the document,” Ianto said, removing the paperweights and carefully re-rolling the parchment into its case.
“Good,” Gwen answered. “In the meantime…I think it’s time we summon Jack…”
Captain Jack Harkness sat up on his horse, as his eyes looked down upon Torchwood Castle once more.
The place hadn’t changed. It was still an imposing edifice, surrounded by the town of Cardiff on three sides and the ocean on the fourth. It was almost idyllic, but for the secret behind Torchwood’s huge walls: that it held some of the most powerful Artifacts known to man. If anyone ever took that castle…that was a terrifying thought, one that Jack had thought of many times in the past. Concentrating all that power in one place could have devastating consequences for the entire world.
It had been about four months since the last time he and his group had been there. That time, it had been for the Baroness’ birthday; this time, however, they were being summoned.
Jack didn’t really like being summoned. It grated.
“We actually gonna get paid for this trip?” his battle surgeon, Owen Harper, asked snidely.
Jack turned in the saddle to glance back at his people. Owen wasn’t looking happy; but then, he hardly did really, unless it had something to do with either being drunk or being with an attractive lady…or both.
Toshiko Sato was beside him, the Elven woman looking relaxed as she rolled her eyes in Owen’s direction. “Is that really all you care about? Oh wait…don’t answer that.”
Suzie Costello laughed. “You should know better by now, Tosh.” The woman edged her horse around the others, coming to join Jack. “What do you think the Baroness wants?” she asked her leader.
Jack shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine…”
“I doubt that.”
He grinned at her. “We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?”
“And in the meantime,” Owen added, “we can enjoy the creature comforts of the town.”
“And maybe Jack can see a certain Archivist he’s taken a fancy to?” Toshiko teased.
Jack rolled his eyes. “Like anything’s going to happen in that quarter.”
“You mean the patented Harkness charm hasn’t worked its magic yet?” Owen smirked.
“Not for lack of trying,” Suzie joined in.
“That’s enough,” Jack ordered. “I don’t need you three poking your noses into my sex life…” Or lack of one, he didn’t say out loud.
It irked Jack that he hadn’t been able to make inroads into his pursuit of Ianto Jones. In matter of fact, it had been the Baroness who’d put a quash on it; she’d told him to leave Ianto alone, that he was off-limits. Normally, he’d have just ignored the warning, but Jack hadn’t wanted to alienate a good customer like the Baroness Gwen. Maybe she didn’t want to risk losing a good Head Archivist.
There was something about the young man…something that confused and fascinated Jack. Maybe it was his reserve; or the obvious intelligence lurking behind those glasses he affected. Hell…it could have been just because the Archivist was handsome. It didn’t matter to Jack…but now that Ianto was firmly out of his reach, it bugged him that he couldn’t find out more.
He urged his horse forward, and his people followed. The sun beat down on them as they approached the town, riding along the Kings’ Road and dodging various carts and pedestrians as they traveled. Many of the people stole glances at them; but then, seeing the heavily armed quartet would have seemed odd to the normal folks who lived and worked around Cardiff.
Jack would meet their eyes, grinning or tossing playful winks if he found anyone particularly fanciable. It was all by habit though; as he got closer to the castle the more his thoughts tried to turn to his Archivist. He pushed those thoughts down hard; he couldn’t afford to be distracted like that. Not when they had a possible mission ahead of them.
It still irritated him though, Baroness Gwen’s attitude. Well, he’d just have to get over it, if he wanted to keep his contracts with Torchwood Castle.
The town of Cardiff was one of the wealthier in the Kingdom, owing that wealth to the busy port in its harbor. The one word that Jack used to describe the place was that it bustled. From the merchants to the servants of the merchants, it was just one bustling hub of activity.
And at the center of it all was Torchwood Castle.
“You want us to get a room at the usual inn?” Owen broke into Jack’s thoughts.
“Yeah, sure,” he answered. “I’ll head up to the Castle and let the Baroness know we’ve arrived.”
As one, his team nodded. That was usually the way things went, when the mercenaries were in town; Jack would do the dealing with the royalty, and his people would have pretty much free run of the town. There had been times when they were all invited to the Castle for various functions, but most of the time the others elected to let Jack do all the hobnobbing.
He was their leader, after all.
Jack pointed his horse toward the middle of town, where the Castle loomed over the town. Truth to tell, he liked the idea of being back in Cardiff. The place seemed to speak to him, to speak of home. He hadn’t really had a home in years, preferring to travel and not to stay in one place too long. There were distinct disadvantages to hanging around…ones that Jack didn’t like – nor was inclined to – explain.
The horses’ hooves clattered on the cobblestones as he cantered into the castle’s courtyard. A liveried servant came to collect the animal as Jack dismounted; he gave the boy a coin to ensure a bit of special treatment for the horse. Then, with a sweep of his cloak, Captain Jack Harkness strode across the courtyard and entered Torchwood Castle.
The coolness of the interior was a stark contrast to the warmth of the sun outside, but Jack ignored it as he made his way through the entry and into the building proper. He found himself joining yet another bustling crowd of courtiers and servants as he passed deeper into the formidable Castle. They also looked at him; but most of them knew who he was, and the curiosity in those gazes made Jack smile. Let them wonder. He loved to have that mystery surround his comings and goings.
Captain Jack Harkness….Man of Mystery. Yes, he liked the way that sounded.
It was a simple matter to locate Baroness Gwen’s personal secretary; the young, curly-haired man occupied a desk just outside the Baronial reception chamber, and he grinned when Jack approached.
“Long time, no see,” he greeted, with that distinctive Cardiff accent.
“Master Andrew,” Jack said in return, settling his rear on the corner of the desk. “Well, if your mistress would get me more jobs, you’d see me more often.”
Andrew grinned. “I’ll talk to her about that.”
“When can I see her?”
“Well, she’s in a meeting with the Royal Representative at the moment…I’ll tell her you’re here as soon as she finishes giving him the bollicking he deserves.”
Jack laughed. “You do that. I’ll be…” he thought for a second, “down in the kitchens. I’ve missed Mistress Heather’s cooking.”
“I’ll send someone for you as soon as Her Grace is free.”
He winked at the secretary, who simply shook his head and went back to work. Jack set out toward the kitchens, whistling as he went.
Of course, he knew the layout of Torchwood Castle like the back of his own hand; Jack had memorized the floor plan of the castle the moment he realized he’d be spending quite a bit of time there. It made for a lack of embarrassed direction-asking. And Jack hated asking for directions.
He was almost at the kitchens – he thoroughly enjoyed teasing Mistress Heather whenever he got the chance – when he passed what he knew was the entrance to the archives.
Jack stopped in his tracks, absently chewing his lip. He wondered in the elusive Ianto Jones was down there. Without a second thought, he took the stairs, heading down deep into the earth.
For a man wearing the amount of armor and weaponry he did, Jack could move quite silently. He thought about what the Baroness had said, about his leaving the archivist alone…but thought that a sneaking glance wouldn’t hurt. Besides, he wanted to see Ianto in his natural habitat.
Which was very much like a cave, now that Jack had actually set foot in it.
The steps emptied out into what looked like a cavern, only lined with shelves stuffed with books, documents, and scrolls. The musty smell of old paper tickled Jack’s nose as he took his first step into the Torchwood Archives, and he had to pinch his nostrils to keep from announcing his presence with a sneeze.
It was also gloomy down there. Jack found himself almost blinded, used to the more lighted areas of the castle above. He blinked a couple of times to adjust to it, then noticed that there was a light coming from down one of the stacks on his right. He decided to follow it, realizing that had to be where his “prey” was working.
A glance around the end of the shelf he’d been walking past brought Jack into sight of his destination. And once again Jack’s breath was taken away by the sight before him.
He couldn’t deny that Ianto Jones was an attractive man; even hunched over a desk, reading something from a scroll, the Archivist was a beautiful sight. The overhead lamp shown in the man’s dark hair, and on skin that was too pale from being indoors so long. His hand was scribbling away on another piece of paper, even as his eyes stared at the parchment before him.
Jack wondered at the concentration that was being demonstrated. Gods…he wasn’t even blinking! His hand was moving quickly over the page as the pen scratched whatever notes he was making., yet he wasn’t looking away from the parchment at all. How could he even tell what he was writing?
Jack simply watched. He wasn’t exactly certain what he was seeing now. What had started as a little innocent voyeurism had turned into..something else. But it wasn’t until the light caught those ubiquitous glasses that Ianto was wearing, that Jack realized what was going on.
He was seeing something magical.
There was a shimmer within the lenses of the glasses themselves, that would have been hidden if the light hadn’t struck them just the right way. Jack couldn’t make out much of Ianto’s eyes past that shimmering, but he was willing to bet that the magic was affecting them in some way.
And it struck him…this was why the Baroness had warned him off Ianto.
Magic-users were rare, and getting rarer every new generation. Certainly the Baroness had a suitable woman picked out, in order to perpetuate the bloodline. That made Jack angry. She probably wasn’t even going to give the young man a choice in the matter.
Taking a silent step backward, Jack retreated from the archives and back up into the lighter areas of the castle. He took his anger with him. Having just witnessed one of the things that made Ianto Jones so special, Jack was determined more than ever now to get closer to the younger man.
And damn what the Baroness thought.
“There he is!”
Ianto stifled the sigh at Captain Jack’s greeting. The mercenary was leaning against the wall near the closed doors to the Baronial audience chamber, looking for all the world like some barbarian king in all the armor and weaponry. That cloak didn’t do anything to dispel the image, either.
“Welcome back to Torchwood Castle, sir,” he murmured. “It’s been a while.”
Captain Jack grinned. “Four months, one week, two days…I can go on.”
Ianto rolled his eyes. Trust the man to know exactly how long he’d been gone. “And they call me anal retentive…”
“And you are, but it looks good on you.”
Oh Gods…more flirting. Was the man completely insatiable? Oh wait…he already knew the answer to that question. “Does that line actually work?”
“You’re the first person I’ve tried it on. You tell me.”
A part of Ianto was pleasantly touched by the admission. He couldn’t help but admire Captain Jack; handsome, brash, confident…pretty much everything Ianto wasn’t. But the archivist was also aware that he acted that way around pretty much anyone, so he had to take the captain’s flirting with a large grain of salt.
He was actually saved from answering by the door to the audience chamber opening. Master Andrew stuck his head out. “The Baron and Baroness are ready to see you now.”
Captain Jack made a deep bow, waving Ianto in first. The archivist accepted and, clutching the materials he’d brought with him a little tighter he moved past the mercenary and into the room.
The audience chamber was one of Ianto’s favorite rooms in the palace…besides the archives, of course. It was light and airy, with large windows looking out over the castle gardens. Yes, he knew it was opposite from where he usually spent his time, but he wasn’t a complete mole despite what others might think.
The Baron and Baroness were waiting for them. Baron Rhys had apparently just gotten up from his seat; he was stretching slightly as he rose. Baroness Gwen was standing by one of the large windows, but her gaze wasn’t on the view outside.
Both men stopped about halfway into the room, then bowed. Out of the corner of his eye, Ianto could see that Captain Jack’s obeisance was rather more flamboyant than it strictly needed to be; but then, that was Jack Harkness for you.
“You’re looking quite radiant today, Your Grace,” the mercenary said by way of greeting.
“Oi!” Baron Rhys shouted. “No flirting with my wife!”
“What? I can’t compliment someone?”
Baroness Gwen just shook her head. “Can’t you be serious for five minutes, Jack?”
“Sure. But where would be the fun in that?” He winked at her saucily.
And this was the reason Ianto would never get his hopes up that Captain Jack’s compliments were anything but flattery.
“We have a job for you and your people,” the Baroness went on.
“I assumed that’s why you sent that letter,” Captain Jack answered.
“You took your time getting here,” the Baron snorted.
The mercenary simply shrugged. “Was in the middle of something that couldn’t be dropped. Not even for one of my best clients.”
They let it lie. Even Ianto knew that when Captain Jack got secretive there was no way to pry anything out of him.
“Master Ianto…if you please,” the Baroness motioned him forward.
This was the part Ianto didn’t care for: the “stand in front of the audience and share” part. He’d always been much happier in the background and let others have the spot light.
But then, in this circumstance, he supposed he was the one with the information.
He carefully laid out the original scroll, and all the handwritten notes he’d made over the two weeks since he’d first made his discovery. When he was done, the top of the Baroness’ desk was neatly covered. Ianto pushed the magical glasses up onto his nose – he really needed to figure out a way to get them adjusted if he kept insisting on wearing them even when he didn't need to – then turned to address the waiting trio.
“This scroll,” he began, resting his gloved fingertips lightly on the parchment, “was discovered in a cache that dated back almost one thousand years. We’ve managed to confirm that date through…certain means.” He didn’t feel the need to go into that much detail. “Anyway, through some careful translation I’ve been able to determine what it says…and it’s quite interesting.”
Captain Jack looked at the scroll closely. “Looks like tangled up string to me. Are you sure this is a language?”
“If Master Ianto says it is,” Baroness Gwen answered waspishly, “then it is.”
The mercenary looked at Ianto, his blue eyes dancing. “I’m sure he has very talented…eyes.”
Ianto felt a flush creep up past his collar. He almost wanted to admit that it wasn’t him, that it was the glasses, but knew the need to keep that sort of thing private.
It took him a couple of seconds to get back on track. “As I was saying…the translation is fascinating. It begins with the story of the Immortality of the Deathless.”
Captain Jack reared back. There was surprise on his face…which was wiped away by derision. “Someone wrote about that old myth? Why is that so fascinating?”
Now Ianto was irritated. “If you’d stop interrupting you might find out why.”
The other man raised his hands in surrender. “I’ll be quiet, I promise…just for you.” He followed that up with a rather broad wink.
“Jack!” the Baroness snapped.
“It’s fine,” Ianto snarked. “He’s just being his usual self…an ass.” Why had he ever thought that he’d actually missed having Captain Jack around?
“Sticks and stones…” the mercenary quipped, smiling.
“Getting back on track,” the Archivist continued,” as all of us here are familiar with the legend of the Immortality of the Deathless, I won’t go into too much about it. However, this scroll has some other details about the tale that don’t appear in current versions.”
“And this is important how?” Captain Jack asked.
Ianto wanted to reach over the desk and punch the man. He barely managed to hold that impulse in, but his teeth were getting a workout with all the grinding they were suddenly doing. “The first major change comes with the idea that the Deathless could, in fact, die under the right circumstances. This would involve using two items: The Dagger of Darkness and the Gauntlet of Resurrection.”
His audience was finally listening raptly. Good.
“This scroll describes both the Dagger and the Gauntlet as very powerful,” he went on, “so powerful that using them could very well addict their user into wielding them all the time.”
“What exactly do they do?” The Baroness asked.
“The Dagger supposedly steals the souls of its victims, and passes that energy onto its handler,” Ianto answered solemnly. “The Gauntlet can bring the dead back to life.”
The room was silent once more. It had stunned Ianto when he’d first translated those parts of the scroll dealing with the Dagger and the Gauntlet. The very notion that someone could control the forces of life and death like that…it was almost inconceivable.
“Let me guess,” Captain Jack finally spoke. “You want me and my people to go after these Artifacts?”
“Yes, we do,” the Baroness answered quietly. “You’ll be well compensated.”
“It would be nice if we knew where we were going.”
“That’s in the scroll as well,” Ianto said. “Although much has changed in a thousand years, it might be possible to trace the Dagger and Gauntlet through what was written.”
“So it won’t be a complete wild goose chase.”
“Indeed not,” she said. “Master Ianto will give you all the information that he has been able to discover.”
Ianto nodded in agreement. “I’ve made copious notes – “
“That’s all well and good,” Captain Jack interrupted. “But what if something comes up on the trail that isn’t covered by your “copious notes”? What happens then?”
“There isn’t any possible way to plan for every contingency – “
“But we can do our best.” The man was just so frustrating!
“Jack,” the Baroness soothed, “be reasonable.”
“I think I am being reasonable. I won’t risk my people on what could very well be a fools’ errand. I’m not some idealistic idiot to follow one of Torchwood’s crusades.”
“As I said, you’ll be amply compensated.”
“Money doesn’t cover everything, Your Grace.”
Baroness Gwen looked as irritated as Ianto felt. “Then what do you think will ensure your success?”
Captain Jack stabbed a finger right at Ianto’s chest. “Him.”
The looks of utter shock on Master Ianto’s face mirrored what Gwen herself was feeling.
“You go too far, Jack,” she warned.
The mercenary captain looked completely unapologetic. “You want this to succeed, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” she answered acerbically.
“Then who best to have along in case something happens? The man who can actually read that gobbledygook!”
The Archivist looked as if he were struck dumb. Gwen was livid. It was bad enough that Jack had to flirt with him – against her specific orders – but now to suggest she send her only magic-using Head Archivist into unknown danger…?
Of course, Jack didn’t know about the magical part. But would that have kept him from suggesting such a thing in the first place?
Gwen had noticed in Jack a distinct lack of caring when it came to things such as magic and duty. He and his band were mercenaries, after all…taking money for doing jobs that right-minded folk would flinch at undertaking. “No, absolutely not. I won’t risk my Head Archivist on this mission.”
“I thought all you people cared about was results,” he accused.
“Which is why I hire the best.” Maybe if she pandered to his ego…
“And yet you want us to rely on some moldy scroll and directions that are gonna be buggy with age!” He shook his head. “You need to give us something else to work with.”
“I thought you enjoyed a challenge, Jack.”
“I do…when I think I might actually have a chance to win!”
“So you have no confidence in your own people?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “I know exactly what my people can and cannot do, Your Grace.”
“I’m very disappointed in you, Jack.” She could tell he was getting furious now.
“I’m sorry, Your Grace, but we can’t do this job if you don’t give us the resources we need to get it done.”
Gwen was becoming even angrier now. “And you think my Archivist is one of those resources!”
“Sure do. And you would too, if you gave it a little thought.”
No…Gwen simply couldn’t risk Ianto. “You don’t know what you’re asking.”
“Sure I do. I’m asking for the best possible chance for success.” He leaned closer. “Your Grace, what happens if we get to where the scroll sends us, and there’s more of that funny scribble and we can’t read it? And what if that scribbling is important to finding these Artifacts? I don’t want my people walking into some sort of trap just because they can’t translate something.”
Gwen chewed her lip. He had a point; there was no guarantee that there wouldn’t be any more of this language at their destination, and that they’d need to translate it. But it was a choice: risk the mercenaries or risk her Archivist. Those Artifacts had remained hidden for a thousand years. If the mercenaries failed, chances were they’d remain hidden for another one thousand.
But…it had been Torchwood Castle’s duty to seek out these sorts of things, for the safety of the kingdom. That duty had been curtailed by a lack of a magic-user; a Catalyst who could touch any sort of Artifact and make it work.
They’d found one, completely by accident. Ianto Jones was the Catalyst that Torchwood Castle had needed, in order to fulfill at least part of their mission. Without him, there would be no one to read the ancient documents, and no one to point them in the right direction.
She opened her mouth to reply to Jack, but another voice cut her off.
“And no one thinks to ask my opinion in all this?”
All three of them turned. Ianto had this forbidding look on his face, a look the Baroness couldn’t ever remember seeing. Jack was actually smirking, which gave her the very unladylike urge to hit him.
Why was it that, when Jack was around, she was always seeming to contemplate violence?
“Sure,” Jack answered, smiling widely. “I’d love to hear your opinion.”
And why did have to make everything that came out of his mouth sound like a come-on?
“Jack,” Gwen turned to the mercenary, “would you please excuse us?”
The man looked disappointed. “Fine, be that way.” With a flourish of his cloak, Captain Jack turned and headed toward the door.
Gwen had most of her attention back on her furious Archivist when Jack stopped, and looked back. “Better decide what you want to do soon,” he warned. “I doubt we’ll be in town that long.” Then he was gone, leaving Andrew to close the door behind him.
“Now, Master Ianto,” Gwen began, dismissing Jack from her mind. “You can’t seriously be considering what Jack suggested.”
“Why not…You Grace?” The Archivist actually removed the translating glasses, apparently better to meet her gaze. “What he says makes perfect sense.”
Gwen had to fight her first instinct to pull her hair out. “You know why this would be a monumentally bad idea.”
“I also know,” the young man answered, “that going along could make the difference between success and failure.”
“You don’t really want to go.”
Ianto sighed. “I would much prefer to stay, yes.” Then he looked her straight in the eye. “I also know that Captain Jack has a very valid point. For this mission to be successful, you’ll need every resource available. And…I am a resource.”
Gwen wanted to reach out and hug him, but she knew he didn’t like to be touched, plus it would be un-Baronial to do so. “You’re more than a resource,” she said, slipping easily into the lie. Well, it wasn’t exactly a lie; she did care for him, in her own way…but it was because of Ianto that they would be able to carry on their mission. A mission that had been set aside for years until the right person came along.
He actually rolled his eyes. “Please. I know my place here, Your Grace.”
Well, she’d always known he was intelligent. “Then you know how important you are…here.”
She turned; she’d almost forgotten that Rhys was there, so focused was she on her Archivist.
Rhys stood there, looking at the pair of them. “You’re not going to convince him, you know.”
She wanted to deny what her husband was saying. But seeing the stubborn set of Ianto’s jaw, she knew immediately that he was right. “You intend on going with him, then?”
Ianto nodded. “It’s only logical.”
“It may be logical,” she returned. “But is it necessarily smart?”
“Maybe not. Who can tell?”
“It’s not going to be a ride in the park,” Rhys added.
“You’ve never been outside of Cardiff before,” Gwen said.
There was a flicker of something in his eyes…something that looked a bit like apprehension. It was quickly suppressed. “I’m sure our brave Captain will look after me.”
In more ways than one, Gwen wanted to say. But didn’t dare.
Jack strode through the corridors of Torchwood Castle, not paying attention to his surroundings. His mind was in far too much turmoil.
This job was already hitting too close to home for him
The Immortality of the Deathless. Gods, he was tired of hearing it put that way. It was almost a redundant title; being Deathless meant you were Immortal, after all. But those damned storytellers had to have their flowery-sounding phrases, did they ever stop to think how embarrassing it was to the one they were telling the story about?
And it wasn't even true deathlessness…they didn't stop to do any sort of basic research when they came up with shit like that. Although he supposed that they really didn't have any way of asking about it, no way of knowing who the subject of their tales was.
No way of going to the proverbial horse's mouth and getting the true facts.
Jack found himself outside the castle, and he took a deep breath before continuing on. It had been a shock, hearing Master Ianto actually talking about it so matter-of-factly. The one thing that Jack had always counted on was the knowledge that everyone thought the story was some sort of tragedy told by troubadours in order to make the ladies weep for the poor, cursed Deathless. Absolutely no one took the thing seriously. It made Jack's existence a lot easier that way.
But now…apparently it was now being taken at face value…or at least the part about the Artifacts was. He should have scoffed at it, but that might have given something away that Jack had done his damnedest to hide. He'd been too surprised to even think of doing that, though. It wasn't often that he was that surprised. Jack had learned to think on his feet, had had plenty of practice with it over his long life….but really, how does one handle something like that?
The servant brought his horse; Jack mounted absently, by habit giving the boy another coin for looking after his steed. He rode out of the courtyard, toward the inn where his people would be waiting.
His mind should have been pleasantly occupied with thoughts of the handsome Master Ianto, yet Jack could only think about what the Archivist had said. Could that scroll be right? That there were Artifacts out there that would end the Deathless? In the beginning, Jack had searched, but to no avail. He'd heard rumors, of course; but none of them had panned out. That had been during his "rant at the world and be all broody" stage, before he'd come to accept what had happened to him. He'd been quite content for a while now.
But this was raking up the old feelings all over again. Even if this was all true…did Jack really want to find those Artifacts? It had been a long existence; he'd outlived everyone he'd ever cared for. Sometimes he just grew tired of it all. Was it really worth a shot?
Or had he doomed the search before it had even begun?
Jack found himself in front of the Pony and Keg before he even realized it. The inn wasn't the best in town, but it was homey and the landlord always made him and his people feel welcome whenever they were in Cardiff.
Once again he turned his horse over to a servant, and then Jack entered the cool interior of the inn. There wasn't much of a crowd yet – it being late afternoon – so that made picking out his people much easier. They were sitting around a table in the corner, already making inroads on the inn's dark ale.
"How'd it go?" Toshiko asked, sliding her chair over to make a little more room.
Jack made a motion toward the bar; within seconds, a pint of ale was sitting in front of him, served by a barmaid who winked at him as she set it on the table. Jack ignored her.
"Must not've been too good," Owen commented, smirking.
"You didn't even flirt with the barmaid," Suzie added.
"Got a lot on my mind, kids," Jack answered slowly.
"Must be a shit job then," Owen said, taking a drink.
"I…wouldn't say that," the captain replied. "Just…improbable."
"Do tell," Toshiko urged.
Jack shook his head. "Not here. In private."
That set his team to looking at each other. "We have rooms upstairs," Suzie said, sliding her chair out and standing.
Jack followed Suzie upstairs, his hand firmly clasping his mug. He suddenly needed this drink, more than anything. None of his people knew the truth about him; they just thought he was one of those lucky ones who never seemed to get hurt in the fights they'd ended up in. Owen had even joked about his skills not being needed.
Luck didn't have anything to do with it, of course. He got hurt; he just didn't show it like a normal person.
The second floor of the Pony and Keg were dedicated to lodging, which was another reason Jack and his crew liked staying there. Many of the better places in Cardiff only catered to the "party" crowd, and only had rooms to rent by the hour. This particular inn was for the traveler, and the quarters weren't really all that bad; at least they were pest-free, and when the barmaids did visit someone they were pretty discreet about it.
Suzie led them into one of the rooms. It was fairly basic; with two beds, a dresser and a table. "Your room's next door," Suzie handed Jack the key.
He thanked her absently, which didn't go unnoticed by any of them. "I think this goes beyond a shit mission," Owen replied, taking a seat on one of the beds.
Jack looked at each of them. He played with the idea of being completely honest with them, then discarded it; it wasn't in his nature to be so forthcoming.
Taking a deep breath, he began. He explained about the scroll, and how the Baroness was taking old story seriously…at least where these Artifacts were concerned. He finished with his demand that Master Ianto accompany them, and the Baroness' reaction.
"What do you think?" he asked, once he was done.
Owen was actually laughing. "They're really asking us to find two Artifacts that may – or may not – exist, based on some old wives' tale?"
"If they really exist," Toshiko mused, "they would be extremely powerful."
"And dangerous," Suzie put in. "It would be bad if they fell into the wrong hands."
"If they exist," Owen echoed Toshiko's statement and his own. "And I can't believe you actually tried to chivvy the Baroness' pet Archivist away from her for this."
Jack shrugged. "Made sense at the time."
"You sure it wasn't just to get him to yourself?"
"Owen!" Jack snarled, irritated at the insinuation. It didn't help that, in normal circumstances, he'd be thinking just that…
The battle surgeon raised his hands in surrender. "Just sayin', Jack."
"Gods, you're touchy today. Must be your time of the month."
Jack didn't dignify that with a reply.
"It really all comes down to how seriously we take the myth of the Deathless," Suzie said, getting between the two men.
Jack took it very seriously, but wasn't about to admit it. "Actually, I think it all comes down to how seriously we take this addition to the story. I think we can agree that the Deathless doesn't exist."
"I wouldn't be too sure," Toshiko answered slowly. The Elvin woman looked thoughtful. "Many of the myths and legends we have today do have some basis in fact."
"What, Tosh…you're saying there could be some sort of Immortal out there, walking around?" Owen scoffed.
"No, I'm not," she answered. "I'm just saying that there could be a kernel of truth in it. Maybe not in the Deathless part, but…somewhere else. We should take that into consideration when we decide what to do."
Jack looked at Toshiko closely. He should have expected something like this from her; her Elven blood made her a bit more receptive to the idea of myth relating to real life. They were a magical people, rooted deep in the earth like ancient trees. The Elves had forgotten more about magic than humans had ever learned. He'd have to keep an eye on her…
"Sounds like a wild goose chase to me," Suzie opined.
"We could always go off for a couple of months then come back and tell the Baroness we weren't able to find anything," Owen suggested. "We could collect our fee and no one would be the wiser."
"As tempting as that is," Jack answered, "I'd know we didn't do anything to earn our money."
"Honestly Jack, you probably kiboshed any sort of deal when you required the presence of Master Ianto," Toshiko said. "There's no way the Baroness will let him out of her sight."
She was more right than she knew. Jack knew the real truth about the Archivist…not that he was going to share that with his comrades. He could keep that particular secret, as well as his own.
Their conference was interrupted by a soft knock. Toshiko, who was closest to the door, answered it, revealing one of the kitchen servants.
"Hello, m'lady…and lords," he said, ducking his head so quickly Jack was afraid he'd get dizzy and fall down. He handed Toshiko a note, then waited patiently until Jack handed him a coin. Then the boy took off, his footsteps clattering on the stairs as Jack closed the door.
"It's addressed to you, Jack," Toshiko said, handing the note over.
Jack instantly recognized the Baroness' handwriting. "Looks like we might have the answer to my little demand right here…"
The day wasn't going the way Ianto had planned.
He'd gotten up that morning, thinking to spend most of his time working in the Archive, taking time out for meals and the odd ramble about the Baronial gardens. There would have been some certain teasing from Mistress Heather about his eating habits, and perhaps some time in the large, well stocked castle library. Oh…and coffee. Coffee was always on the agenda.
Instead, Captain Jack and his mercenaries had shown up. That had led to the meeting with Their Graces and the Captain…and had spiraled into the argument that had had the stubborn side of his nature rearing its ugly head at the notion that both the Baroness and the Captain were discussing him as if he hadn't even been in the room.
Gods, what had he done to deserve this?
And why had he ever thought accompanying the mercenaries would be a good idea?
He must have gone completely mental.
Even now, as he stood slightly apart from everyone in the Baroness' salon, watching Baroness Gwen and Captain Jack posturing for a second time that day, Ianto was reviewing just what had gone wrong with his day. He just couldn't put his finger on it, but figured it had more to do with Captain Jack Harkness and the way he just seemed to take over any room he found himself in than in anything Ianto had done himself. This whole decision to follow the mercenary was most likely just a reaction to that, and not because he actually wanted to go anywhere with the man.
Why did any one human have to have that much charisma?
Or sex appeal, for that matter?
At that thought, Ianto felt himself blushing. He very much hoped no one noticed. Everyone knew that Captain Jack was in inveterate flirt, and the few times they'd been together Ianto had gotten his fair share of that attention. If it wasn't so flattering it would be downright humiliating. But he also knew that it didn't mean anything, and that irritated him a bit. It wouldn't have if he'd actually considered himself worthy of flirtation, and not because Captain Jack was just like that with everyone.
"– still think this is a very bad idea," Her Grace was saying.
"You don't trust me to look after him?" Captain Jack asked.
"I would…if I thought you had his best interests at heart."
Ianto barely controlled rolling his eyes. There they go again, talking like he wasn't even in the room. Normally, he'd be fine with it, but for some reason today it pissed him off.
Captain Jack dramatically put his hand on his chest. "You wound me, Your Grace."
The Baroness did the eye rolling for Ianto. "Oh, please. Stop it."
Captain Jack did as she asked, the laughing mask he wore dropping away. "We don't have to do this, you know. Personally, I think you're chasing a pipe dream."
"I personally don't think so."
"Well, opinions are like assholes…everybody has one."
"I'm paying you and your people very well to do this."
Captain Jack leered. "That's what finally tipped the balance in favor of this job. It wasn't belief in the goal, trust me."
"Trust you?" the Baroness lifted an eyebrow. "The only thing I do trust is your love for money."
Something flickered in the Captain's eyes, something that Ianto would have missed had he not been looking directly at him. It was gone before it could be identified. "Well, you're gonna have to trust me for one other thing…keeping your precious Head Archivist alive." And then he put the power of those blue eyes right on Ianto.
He had to fight not to flinch away. There was something in that gaze…something old, and powerful. Ianto couldn't put his finger on what he was seeing, but it made him very uncomfortable. And yet, at the same time…how odd. "I trust him," he found himself answering.
He was rewarded by a smile…not the flirty thing that was often sent in his direction, but a genuine expression of gratitude. Ianto found himself blushing once more.
Baroness Gwen glanced between the two men, drawing Ianto's eyes away from Captain Jack by the force of her disapproval. "I don't like this."
Captain Jack's smile turned to her, and changed from charming to mocking. "I think Master Ianto has made his decision. You should abide by it."
So, he was able to make the Baroness grind her teeth as well. Ianto was secretly pleased that it wasn't just him whom Captain Jack had that effect on. "I don't need you to tell me how to handle my people, Captain."
"You could have fooled me, Baroness."
This was getting out of hand. "Are you two going to start hissing at each other next?" Ianto said, irritated.
The looks they gave him were comical in the extreme.
"I am assuming that this is turning into a cat-fight." Ianto raised one eyebrow.
And with that look, Captain Jack started to laugh.
It was a nice laugh, if Ianto was honest with himself about it.
Baroness Gwen simply shook her head, looking amused and irritated at the same time.
Captain Jack's chuckles faded out, and he looked at Ianto as if seeing him in a new light. And, if the archivist blushed anymore he'd pass out from all the blood going to his head.
"I get the feeling having you along is going to be very interesting," he said, favoring Ianto with another flirt-less smile.
"I'll do my best to keep up my end, Sir," Ianto said primly.
That caused another laugh, but not as loudly as before. "I'm sure you will." He reached up and put his hand on Ianto's shoulder, squeezing slightly.
Normally, Ianto would have at least shrugged away that hand, since he didn't particularly care to be touched, but he suffered it. No, suffered wasn't the word, but for once in his life he was lost for what to call it.
And then the hand was gone, and Captain Jack was talking to the Baroness once more. "We'll leave in the morning," he said.
"All right, Jack." She still didn't look pleased.
He nodded to her, favored Ianto with another smile – this one back to flirty – then did this flourish with his cloak and was striding out of the room.
Once he was gone, the Baroness sighed. "I do still think this is a bad decision," she said.
"It may be," Ianto answered. "But it's my decision to make."
She looked like she wanted to argue that, but in the end she didn't. "Just watch yourself around Jack Harkness. You might trust him with your life, but I wouldn't trust him with anything else."
Ianto was irked, but hid it. "I'm well aware of Captain Jack's reputation, Your Grace."
"Yes…of course you are." Baroness Gwen smiled, somewhat sadly.
Ianto had to wonder what that particular facial expression meant.
Jack lounged against the wall just outside the audience chamber, receiving strange looks from Master Andrew and ignoring them all. He nibbled at this thumbnail absently as he stood there, thinking back on what had just happened.
Never in his wildest dreams had he really thought that Baroness Gwen would let her precious Master Archivist go with them.
Honestly, Jack had been impressed with Master Ianto's determination to accompany them. The problem was, he foresaw some fairly serious issues with it: the primary one being that Jack was pretty sure that Ianto had never been away from Cardiff in his entire life. He could be wrong, of course; the man could yet surprise him once more. But even if he'd traveled to any of the other cities in the Kingdom Jack was certain that the young man hadn't had to sleep rough or even ride a horse for longer than a few hours at a time.
Maybe his insistence on the man's coming along had been a really bad move.
And maybe there was just a smidgen of truth in Owen's assertion that it wasn't exactly done with the good of the mission in mind.
The door to the audience chamber opened, and the object of Jack's thoughts came out. He watched as Master Ianto nodded to Andrew, then started to leave.
Master Ianto stopped, turning. Jack pushed himself off the wall to approach. "What can I do for you, sir?" the Archivist asked politely.
The problem was, Jack wasn't exactly sure. He wanted to confront the younger man about his experience in traveling, to know exactly what he'd be dealing with in the days to come. But Jack's mouth didn't cooperate, and out of it came instead, "You said there were details in the scroll that don't appear in the myth of the Deathless."
Was that surprise he saw? It was hard to tell, with the sunlight glinting off those damned glasses. "I was under the impression that you discounted the story as complete fable."
Jack shrugged. "Well, apparently everyone else is taking it seriously. I might as well start doing the same." Well, he did take it seriously…way too seriously, in point of fact. But there seemed to be a problem getting his mouth to say what he really wanted it to.
The glasses were irritating him. "Do you have to wear those glasses all the time?"
Master Ianto stilled. After a short pause, he said, "Only if I want to be able to see what I'm doing."
But Jack knew the truth. Knew the glasses weren't needed in the way the Archivist was claiming.
He let it lie.
"Look, I just want to get all the information possible," Jack went on. "If this story is important, I should know all about it."
Master Ianto cocked his head to one side, and Jack could finally see his blue eyes past those magical lenses. He was regarding Jack closely, and while usually the mercenary would put up with the look from anyone else, there was something in that gaze that made him want to look away and scuff his boot on the floor, like a child having been caught doing something naughty.
Finally, the man raised an eyebrow. "Who am I to stand in the way of someone wishing to learn something new?" His tone was actually a bit playful. "Come with me then."
It was a tone Jack hadn't heard from him before. He realized he liked it...a lot.
He followed Master Ianto down to the archives, this time not bothering to stifle his sneeze as the scents of moldy paper hit him. That received an amused look from his guide, one that Jack returned with a smirk. He was rewarded with a slight blush that wouldn't have been noticeable if Jack hadn't been looking for it.
Once at the Archivist's desk, Master Ianto slid the stool around to the side, inviting Jack to have a seat. Jack settled on the stool as the man disappeared around a shelf, only to return with two mugs. He set one in front of Jack, and the other toward the back of the desk, then vanished once more.
Jack caught a whiff of coffee. He smiled, taking a sip…and was almost knocked off the stool by how good it was. "Did you make this yourself?" he asked, raising his voice.
Master Ianto came back, another stool in one hand and a scroll tube in the other. "Yes, I did," he answered, putting the stool down and taking his own seat.
"If you make coffee this good every day, you'll have my people eating out of your hand." Jack was impressed despite himself.
The Archivist looked pleased, and tried to hide it. "I assume you'll be making this one my duties on our…trip, sir?"
"If you don't mind…and it's Jack. None of that "sir" business." Although, Jack admitted to himself that the word "sir" sounded quite nice with Master Ianto's accent.
The younger man uncapped the scroll tube, removing its contents. "That wouldn't be very appropriate, sir."
Jack let it alone. He'd work on the man later, to lighten him up a bit.
"I made these copies," Master Ianto went on, as he spread out the papers. "It wouldn't do to have a priceless scroll damaged."
Jack craned his head over the desk, examining the documents. "Nice," he said.
There was no answer, but once again Master Ianto looked pleased. "I can give you a précis of what the document says – "
"Would you read it to me?"
Master Ianto's eyebrows threatened to disappear into his hairline. "Verbatim?"
"Sure. I'd like to hear it all." He smiled over the lip of the mug as he took another sip. The coffee was almost orgasmic.
Jack didn't know why he was asking for a reading. Perhaps it was because he wanted to know how flawed this version of the Deathless story was. So many different tales, told by so many different people…Jack admitted that he didn't recognize the language on that scroll. He'd never seen it before, and while he wasn't a linguist by any stretch of the imagination, he'd been around long enough to see pretty much any sort of writing, even if he couldn't read them.
Or maybe he just wanted to hear Master Ianto talk as long as possible…
The Archivist shrugged. "If you insist." He straightened those magical glasses, then picked up the copy of the scroll. Clearing his throat slightly, he began to read.
"In the Year of the Red Dragons' Dawning, came the Demons from the Frozen North. They trailed destruction across the Icy Wastes, and down into the Warm Lands of the South. They killed and burned all in their way; for their goal was not to conquer, but to destroy. Sent by their Emperor God, they could not be stopped as they made their inexorable way into the Lands of the Living."
Jack sat, listening. Already this was new; most of the stories that were told of the Deathless didn't involve them. Oh yes…Jack remembered them, the Nameless dread that came in that terrible year, ravaging their way across the world. He suppressed a shiver at the surfacing memories, taking a sip of coffee to hide his distress.
Although, he didn't think the Archivist would notice. His gaze was on the scroll, caught in the magic that was allowing him to translate what was on the page.
"They came to the Great City, the Gateway to the Living Lands, and nothing could stop them. However, in that City lived a mighty Wizard, who had the Ancient Lore and knew the Deep Ways of Magic. This Wizard decided to make a stand against the Demons from the North, as he knew that if they continued their rampage all life would be destroyed."
"With the help of his loyal Apprentice, the Wizard prepared for the coming of the Demons. They enlisted the aid of a Great Warrior, the Paladin of the East, in the physical defense of the City."
The Paladin of the East. Well, that wasn't exactly accurate; while Jack had definitely come from the East, he'd never considered himself any sort of Paladin. He'd met Paladins, and Jack was about as far from that caliber as the Sun was from the Earth. After all, he was in no way as straight-laced, prim, and celibate. No way, no how.
"The three Companions planned for the coming of the Demons, but very quickly the Great Wizard realized that the only way to stop the masses would be to unleash a magic so powerful that it would also destroy all life within the Great City as well. The Paladin urged him to use the magic anyway, to save the lives of so many others who would die in the World if the Demons broke the siege."
Jack was quickly becoming stunned at just how accurate this version of the Deathless legend was. No, it wasn't legend…this was history, written as close to actual events as possible.
He remembered that conversation…about the use of the magic. He could still hear the agony in Master John's words, as he described what would happen. Jack had backed him, he'd had no choice. There'd been no way the Demons could be let loose on the world.
Jack's hand was shaking. He put the half-finished coffee down, the better not to slosh himself.
"However, the Great Wizard did one thing before he completed his Spell: using his own personal magic, he sent his Apprentice away, to get her out of danger. For both the Great Wizard and the Paladin of the East cared for her, and did not wish her to die as well. Also, it would be up to her to warn the rest of the World at the coming of the Demons, if their magic failed."
Jack also remembered that: how glad he'd been that Master John had sent the Lady Rose away. This was also so very different from contemporary stories; in most of those, there had been a powerful witch, and not a lowly apprentice; also, the supposed witch had been the love of the Deathless. Neither had been even close to the truth.
He wondered just who'd written this. It was eerie, what he was hearing.
"But the Apprentice railed against her fate. Using a spell that the Great Wizard had forbade her to, she tapped into the Deep Ways, taking that Ancient Magic into her own body. She sent herself back to the Great City…but she was too late. The Paladin of the East's defense had failed, and the Paladin himself was dead. With that loss, the Great Wizard had chosen to save the City and its people, instead of using his Spell."
The first death. Jack would always remember that first death. He'd been surrounded by the Nameless Demons, with only a sword and shield to protect him. They'd swarmed over him like a tide…
This time, he did shiver, hoping that it wasn't too obvious. It must not have been, for Master Ianto kept reading.
"Under the influence of the Deep Ways, the Apprentice dispersed the Demons to the four winds. She also brought the Paladin back from the dead; however, in her inexperience she gave the Paladin Immortality instead of new life. Then, in an effort to rid his Apprentice of the Deep Magic, the Great Wizard took her away from the site of so much death. There was no whisper of their passing as they left the World behind. But the Paladin was abandoned, to suffer his fate as the Immortal One, the Man who Dies and yet does not."
Abandoned…yes, that had been right. Jack had been abandoned in the ruin of that once beautiful city, surrounded by the ash that were all that remained of the Demons. At the time, he hadn't known what that had meant; all he'd known was that he'd been left behind.
It still bothered him, after all these years.
Master Ianto looked up from his reading. He cocked his head, actually removing his glasses to reveal his blue eyes…which looked concerned. "Are you all right, sir?"
As Ianto read the scroll, he kept making surreptitious glances in Captain Jack's direction. He didn't really need to keep all his concentration on the scroll; over the last weeks he'd practically memorized what it said, and it was simply the need to get the words correct that kept at least part of his attention on it.
He couldn't help but notice that the mercenary seemed…affected…by the story.
It gave Ianto a glimpse into something he'd never have guessed: that this flamboyant mercenary Captain was hiding a romantic side. Who would have thought?
It went against what he'd heard about the man, and that confused him. He could admit that.
He removed his glasses, setting them down on the scroll. "Are you all right, sir?"
Captain Jack's eyes snapped up to meet Ianto's own, his surprise at the question evident. Then he grinned, but the expression didn't reach his eyes. "Why wouldn't I be?" he challenged lightly.
"It's just…" Ianto didn't quite know how to put it, in a way that might not seem like an insult. "The tale seemed to bother you, somewhat." There, that sounded all right.
The other man cleared his throat slightly. There was a look in his eyes…something that Ianto couldn't fathom. "Well," Captain Jack finally spoke, "I was surprised that this version of the story is so different from anything I've heard so far. When you said there were changes, I didn't realize you meant the entire tale had been rewritten."
Ianto's eyebrow twitched, betraying his own surprise at that answer. "Yes, I suppose you're right," he mused. "We're all so used to the clichéd version…but this was actually the one I grew up with, to be honest. That one the bards spread around, about the witch and everlasting love…that one, to me, is the false story. "
It was Captain Jack's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Where did you hear it from?"
Ianto shrugged. "My Gran told me. There are still differences, but this scroll tells nearly the exact same story as she did."
The other man smirked. "And what was different about it?"
Well, this conversation had gone in a direction Ianto hadn't planned. "Mostly about the so-called Paladin," he answered. "In Gran's story the man wasn't a Paladin…he was some sort of trickster, who only got caught up in the battle because he was friends with the Protector Wizard."
The archivist didn't miss the look on Captain Jack's face: he was startled, and it didn't take a major mental leap for Ianto to realize that he'd struck some sort of nerve.
Perhaps this whole thing wasn't so new to the mercenary, after all.
There was a strange, uncomfortable silence between them, until Captain Jack cleared his throat once more. "So…about the rest of the story?"
Ianto didn't bother to pick up the scroll once more. He wanted to watch the man this time, more carefully than he'd done before. There was a look in those eyes, something painful and tired and oh-so old. "The rest goes on about another Wizard," he continued. "If you don't mind, I won't read it word for word…"
Captain Jack nodded his agreement.
"Apparently there was another Wizard, one of the same race of Wizards that the Great Wizard of the City belonged to," Ianto said. "He found out about the making of the Deathless and thought he was an abomination against the Deep Ways. So, this wizard decided to find a way to destroy the Deathless and wipe out what he considered an atrocity against nature."
Once again, a look passed through Captain Jack's eyes – and really, they were quite nice eyes – that Ianto couldn't fathom. He couldn't get past the idea that those blue orbs had seen more than they possibly should have, but that was ridiculous.
"I would guess this is where the Gauntlet and the Dagger come in?" the man asked, taking a sip from his mug, then realizing there wasn't anything left in it.
Ianto held out his hand, and Captain Jack passed the mug over. He picked up his own drink; even though there was still some coffee in the mug, he wanted to top it off.
The small stove was just around the corner; the others working the Archives had thought Ianto'd been crazy to have it put in so close to all that paper, with a hazard of fire and all. But Ianto had persevered, there was no way he was going to keep going back up to the kitchen for coffee, not when he could make it himself and make it much better. Of course, he still visited Mistress Heather for a cup every once in a while, when he was feeling a bit lazy, but he did much prefer his own brew.
Going back to his desk, Ianto set both mugs down, taking his stool once more. Captain Jack hadn't moved, and his eyes lit up when the coffee reappeared. "You are a God among Men, Ianto Jones," he sighed, once he'd taken his first sip.
"I wasn't aware there was a God of Coffee in the religious pantheon," Ianto answered softly.
"In mine, there is. And I shall worship you forever."
"I expect my worshippers to bring gifts," he said without thinking. Really, if he'd thought about it, he wouldn't have said that. That was asking for trouble, and trouble wasn't something he particularly wanted. Especially that kind of trouble.
That kind of trouble was a rather salacious grin that made Captain Jack's eyes twinkle somewhat alarmingly. It should be unnatural, that one man should be able to twinkle like that. "I'm sure I could arrange something," he practically purred.
While he'd been on the receiving end of Jack Harkness's charm on several occasions, this was quite unreal. No one should be this charming, it had to be some sort of magical spell.
Maybe there was a scroll somewhere that would ward against this sort of thing.
"Sh-should be get back to the story, sir?" he managed to ask. Ianto hoped Captain Jack wouldn't notice his stuttering, or the blush that he could feel warming his cheeks.
No, he'd noticed, judging from the smirk. Bastard.
"Absolutely," Captain Jack answered, settling back with his mug. "Please go on. You have my undivided attention."
That didn't make him nervous, absolutely not…
"As I was saying," Ianto went on, gathering his thoughts back together, "this Master Wizard went searching for a way to end the Deathless' existence. Unfortunately, the Deep Ways weren't cooperating, so he decided to track down any sort of likely Artifacts to help him."
Ianto played with the earpieces of the magical glasses without realizing what he was doing. "After searching for years, he found the Gauntlet and the Dagger. He figured out how they worked, and believed he could use them to finally put an end to the Deathless. However, the Master Wizard never did locate him, and the Artifacts were lost."
"So…there isn't any proof that they'll actually do anything…to the Deathless, that is."
Ianto nodded, seeing the suddenly calculating look in the older man's expression. "But that really isn't the point, is it? If those Artifacts exist, they'll be very dangerous. We need to find them and bring them back here, for safety."
"And that scroll has directions to wherever they're supposed to me."
It wasn't a question, but Ianto treated it as one. "Yes. Although the city is certainly to be nothing more than ruins now. After all, it's been over a thousand years."
"So there's no guarantee they even exist anymore."
Another non-question. "No…but magical Artifacts are notoriously hard to destroy. I sincerely doubt age would have caused them to deteriorate that badly."
"Do you have any real experience with...magical Artifacts? Can we rely on you to know how to handle either one if we do find them?"
Ianto wanted to bristle at the implication, but found that he really couldn't, not without giving his own secret away. "There are such Artifacts here in the castle, as I'm sure you're aware."
Captain Jack looked at him, as if sizing him up. "Yes, I'm aware. I just wanted to make sure you didn't get us all killed by touching something you shouldn't. No offense."
Bloody hell…of course he was offended, but didn't want to show it. "None taken, sir."
"We're really going to have to work on that whole "sir" thing."
"You're welcome to try…sir."
The first two days of their journey seemed to set the dynamic for the entire team, and Jack wasn't so sure he liked what he was seeing.
He was partly to blame, of course. Being so distracted by what Master Ianto had told him was in that scroll had made him think about a lot of things that had been buried for a very long time. Usually he was quite good at shoving all that stuff back into its closet in his mind, but for some reason this time it kept coming back to haunt him, and it made him distracted and short-tempered. Of course, snapping at either Owen or Suzie meant they'd just snap back, but Tosh just accepted it, and Master Ianto…well, of course the archivist hadn't known where he stood with the team, and had just retreated into quietness, keeping to the back of the group near the pack horses as they made their way north. Jack had seen it, but honestly hadn't paid attention.
He couldn't believe how pissed off he was at himself over it.
But, thank the Gods for Tosh. While Suzie and Owen blatantly ignored their newest member, Tosh had apparently decided to take it upon herself to make Master Ianto feel welcome when she appeared to notice his withdrawal. Jack caught them more than once, talking as they rode, and he realized that it made sense for them to have the most in common. After all, the Elves had forgotten more about magic than humankind had ever known. Tosh wasn't a magic-user per se, but she could keep up with the subject. It helped that she had trained as a druid, and what she didn't know about natural lore simply wasn't worth knowing.
And so, Jack let Tosh do what he should have been doing, losing himself in thoughts of his past.
As contemptuous as he'd always been about the tales spread about the Deathless, they actually had the benefit of helping Jack push the remembrances of those days away, so he hadn't had to deal with them anymore. But now, he found himself watching the events he'd long thought buried, playing against the backs of his eyes like pictures dancing in the candlelight. He remembered Lady Rose, and how beautiful she'd been; Master John, whom he'd respected and admired – and even loved; and worst of all, the feelings of horror and betrayal as the truth of his changed nature had begun to reveal itself.
Jack had long ago come to terms with what he'd become. He'd had to, because to do anything else would have driven him mad. He'd made allowances for his unchanging state: moving on once it became obvious that he wasn't aging; never getting too close to people, knowing he'd lose them one day; staying out of the way of any major events that might become recorded history. He'd traveled the world two times over, finally settling in what was now called the United Kingdom when he'd gotten tired of the wanderlust for a while. Someday, he'd move on once more. Already he'd begun thinking about that time, even before these new developments; and knew he'd one day fake his death so his team would believe him gone. Suzie and Tosh had been with him the longest, at almost five years; Owen had joined them not long after. Someday they'd begin to wonder why Jack didn't seem to be aging, and then he'd know it was time.
Jack Harkness wasn't his first name, and it certainly wouldn't be his last. That was the way of his existence.
He also thought back on the story of the Wizard, the one who'd decided that Jack's not being able to die was an abomination. It wouldn't be the first time he'd ever heard that term applied to him, and it was amazing that after all this time it still hurt. He hadn't asked for this. He'd blamed Rose for the longest time, but then he'd come to terms with her bringing him back to life. She'd only cared about him; she'd only done what she'd thought was right…even if Rose had managed to completely cock it up.
But this other Wizard had taken it upon himself to attempt to find a way to destroy Jack, for the last and final time, for no other reason than Jack shouldn't exist. And he'd supposedly found it, with this Gauntlet and Dagger. It made Jack consider if he'd actually take that way out, if it meant ending his existence. He'd long ago come to accept his lot, and had gone out of his way to make himself fairly invisible. Would the world miss him if he was gone? Did Jack finally want to pass on beyond the veil of life, to whatever lay beyond?
That was the question, wasn't it?
And so, he was lost in his thoughts as his team settled into their traveling routine. By the time he really noticed, Jack hoped it wouldn't get in the way of the mission. Because, no matter what his final decision would be, he'd do his damnedest to complete this job, it was a matter of pride.
It was on the second day, as they were packing up, that Jack heard Owen call Master Ianto "Coffee boy." That was when Jack knew things had gotten really out of control.
The thing was, Master Ianto didn't seem to mind all that much. He simply shrugged, and handed the battle surgeon a mug that steamed in the cool morning air, his face schooled into a pleasant expression.
In fact, the closer Jack watched him, the more he realized he'd missed a lot in the time he'd pretty much ignored the team.
It led him to approach Tosh. "How's he doing?" Jack asked quietly.
The Elf looked surprised that Jack was even asking. "I have it under control," she answered, just as quietly.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Jack was frustrated.
Toshiko looked at him strangely. "Well, I knew you could be oblivious, Jack…but you can't tell me you didn't notice?"
She sighed. "Jack…Ianto hasn't ridden a horse for long distances before. You know how hard that can be on a person. He could barely move that first night."
"Damn." Jack was angry for not seeing it; but he also wanted to know how Tosh had earned to right to call the archivist "Ianto" without the "Master" attached. "Is he okay now?"
"I know of some herbs that help with the soreness," she answered. "But despite how he was feeling, he was up before all of us that next morning, helping around in camp. And I admit…his coffee is to die for."
Yes, it was…Jack shook his head to dismiss that thought, because honestly it wasn't all that relevant to the conversation. Of course, what was seriously telling of his distraction that he hadn't actually had any sort of improper thoughts toward their newest team member at all, since they'd started out from Cardiff.
"He's trying, Jack," Tosh went on. "But he's not very sure of his place with us, and it certainly hasn't helped that you haven't defined that place, beyond the obvious coffee-making skills. And the thing is…you haven't done anything to define that role to the rest of us, either."
"So, you're saying….I suck at the whole leadership thing." He tried to make is light, but he was disturbed by what Toshiko was saying.
"No, I'm not," the Elven woman sounded put upon. "I'm just saying you didn't think this through. And I have to seriously wonder if you asked Ianto along because he can be a serious help to us…or because you have an itch you'd like to scratch."
"Actually," he answered sharply, "I thought his presence would be the tipping point as to whether we succeed or fail. He has skills, Tosh…skills we're going to need if we want to make this work." He wasn't about to admit that he also had that certain "itch", as she put it…but that was none of her business, really.
Toshiko looked at him sideways, as if debating on whether to believe him or not. Then she shrugged. "Then you should figure out just what his responsibilities are, because until you do he's going to just be dangling out there, not sure of where he stands."
Jack nodded. "I'll do that."
"You better." She smiled softly. "I've grown fond of him, to be honest; in just the short time I've known him. I'd like to see him survive this."
Jack didn't add that he wanted that, as well.
This trip wasn't going at all like Ianto thought it would.
But then, to be honest he hadn't really had any preconceived notions of just how things would happen, but he'd have liked it to be a little bit easier, physically and mentally.
First, he'd no idea that riding a horse for most of the day would actually hurt. Although maybe he should have, since Ianto wasn't a stupid man by any stretch of the imagination and sitting in a saddle all day should have had some sort of physical effect on him. So he mentally kicked himself for not thinking that far ahead as he'd tried to get down from his horse when the group had made camp that first day, and found that he couldn't actually move his legs without the muscles telling him off vociferously for treating them in such a cavalier manner.
No one seemed to notice his problem with mobility, either. Everyone just got on with setting up camp, and left him to his own devices. He'd been about to call attention to his plight when the Elvin woman, Toshiko, saw him still sitting in the saddle and had asked him why he was still on the horse.
Ianto had admitted his problem. And she'd been more than happy to help him. She didn't even tease him about it. Which was nice, because Ianto was still a bit pissed off at Dr. Harper's attitude when Ianto had shown up at the inn first thing that morning. Gods, could the man have been any more condescending? It had taken all of Ianto's control not to spit the same bile back, since he had no real idea how he was supposed to be acting around these strangers as it was.
And Captain Jack hadn't been of any help whatsoever, damn him.
Oh no…the man who'd wanted Ianto to come along in the first place…the man Ianto had counted on to help him fit in…had completely ignored him. Ianto felt slighted, but wasn't confident enough in his position with the group to actually call him on it. But there was something else, a feeling Ianto wasn't able to identify. Almost like hurt, but not quite so defined.
And he hadn't been the only one; Suzie Costello had as well, but Ianto hadn't been so sure that was a bad thing. The woman intimidated him, and it wasn't just the weapons she carried – Suzie was tooled up like some sort of barbarian queen – but it was her attitude, the confidence she had, and her overall bearing. He certainly didn't want to get on her bad side, that was for sure.
After his earlier cutting comments, Owen Harper had also gone on to ignore him, which also wasn't a bad thing. Ianto could honestly say he didn't like the battle surgeon, that might change but Ianto doubted it.
However, Ianto had been very interested in Toshiko Sato. He'd never met an Elf before, and his curiosity had to be curtailed because, simply, he hadn't wanted to insult her or think he was some sort of weirdo. That changed, as she approached him and struck up a conversation. She was very knowledgeable in natural lore, and could practically talk "shop" with him where the nature sciences were concerned. She also had a basic familiarity with the Laws of Magic, and Ianto had been quite content to discuss them throughout that day, and she managed to keep his mind off the fact that he was seriously beginning to hurt from the riding.
She was even nice enough to help him down from the saddle, and fetch him some herbs to help with the stiffness.
The next day, it had been pretty much the same, although at least Dr. Harper was speaking to him, if only to call him "Coffee Boy" and to demand more coffee. Ianto appeared to be doing something right, even if it was keeping his new acquaintances well supplied with their caffeine fix.
That was also the morning that Ianto suspected that Toshiko and Captain Jack had been talking about him.
He didn't actually catch the conversation, but he saw the mercenary captain glance at him several times during the course of it. Ianto studiously ignored the man, stiffly getting his things together and tied back into place on his saddle. It did irk him, because honestly if the captain wanted to speak about him, he should do it Ianto's face.
Toshiko rode with him again, and Ianto was glad of the company. There were times during the trip that he could feel Captain Jack looking at him, and finally he simply couldn't take it anymore.
"What is his problem?" he finally asked Toshiko.
She looked a bit surprised at the change in topic; they'd been discussing Einstein's Law of Natural Conservation of Magic. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"The captain. He ignored me all day yesterday, and now he keeps staring at me like I've grown horns or something."
"It's not that bad."
"It's damned annoying."
"Shouldn't you asking him about that?" She didn't seem all that comfortable with the discussion.
"I'd rather not, thanks just the same." Even as he said it, Ianto know that wasn't strictly true. He actually wanted to speak to the man, but at the same time he was still angry at being ignored.
He suddenly got the feeling that he was being fairly petty about the situation.
So, he went back to the original topic, and enjoyed Toshiko's outlooks on Einstein's works.
Later that afternoon, they rode into Haven, which had the advantage of being on the main northern trading route.
And, Ianto decided, he was going to try very hard not to gawk like a tourist.
Haven was a sprawling place, from what he could tell. As they got deeper into the town, the single story homes were gradually replaced by multi-story buildings that were shops on the ground floor, and residences for the merchants above. The people seemed to bustle about, visiting the shops and surging around their horses, not seeming to care that they were weaving around animals that could trample them if they weren't careful. It was busy, noisy…and just a little bit scary.
The group rode up to an inn with the fanciful name of the Pegasus and Crown. Ianto followed their example and dismounted, taking his personal belongings off the saddle and letting a stable boy lead his horse off toward the back of the inn, where the stables obviously were. The inn itself was a large, three story affair built of dark wood and brick, with large windows in the upper floors. It had two wings leading off the main building, making it one of the largest structures yet seen.
The interior of the inn was gloomy, but that could have been because the sun outside was just that bright. Ianto blinked his eyes to clear them, finding himself in the back of the group, as Captain Jack took care of getting them checked into rooms. He handed out keys; they each had a room letter on them, dangling from a chain through the top of the key. His said room D, which apparently he was going to be sharing with the Captain and the surgeon. How lovely that sounded…
Ianto was beginning to seriously doubt the reasons he'd come on this trip.
The common room was fairly empty, and Dr. Harper made a beeline for an empty table in the corner by a large fireplace that thankfully wasn't lit. The rest of the group seemed quite content to join him, but Ianto really didn't feel the need. Instead, he snuck off upstairs, really just wanting to get cleaned up and rest for a bit.
He really didn't think he'd be at all missed.
The stairs about did his sore thighs in, but he managed to make it to room D, which thankfully was on the middle floor. The room was fairly large, with two beds – and no, there was no way he was going to share a bed with either men. Ianto wondered if they'd make him sleep on the floor, then decided that if he claimed one of the beds now, there might be a chance that he'd still have it when he went to sleep that night. So he slung his bags down on the bed closest to the window, and decided he really wanted to find the bathroom…which he eventually did, and when he emerged almost half an hour later he felt considerably more human than when he went in.
Captain Jack was waiting in the room for him.
"You scrub up nicely," he commented, grinning.
Ianto wasn't really in the mood. "You've seen me clean before, sir," he answered, deadpan. "I can't see why it's a big deal now."
He sighed, then stood from where he'd been sitting on the bed – the bed that Ianto had chosen for his own. "C'mon. Let's go for a stroll."
Ianto barely managed not to gape at him. "I would prefer to rest a bit – "
"Yeah," the mercenary overrode him, "but you don't want to stiffen up anymore than you already have. Please…indulge me."
For some weird reason, Ianto was actually a bit gratified that the mercenary had mentioned his "issues" with horseback riding, but at the same time he was irritated because he knew damned well that Captain Jack hadn't noticed himself; Ianto was certain he'd heard it from Toshiko.
There was a pleading expression on the captain's face. Stifling a sigh, Ianto capitulated under that gaze. "All right. If you insist, sir."
"I'm going to have to work on that whole "sir" thing," the captain said, grinning. "No one ever calls me that."
"Then it pleases me to be the only one."
Ianto followed Captain Jack somewhat reluctantly down the stairs and back through the common room. Dr. Harper and Suzie Costello were still at the table, but Toshiko was gone, and Ianto wondered where she was. The two mercenaries didn't seem to notice them leaving, and that was more than fine. They seemed far more interested in drinking than in what was going on around them.
The sunlight hit Ianto full in the face, and he had to blink so he could see. Apparently the captain didn't have any problems with being dazzled, because he was several paces away before Ianto moved again.
Captain Jack must have seen he was alone; he stopped and waited for Ianto to catch him up. Together, the two men threaded their way through the crowded streets, passing shops and booths as they walked. Ianto had been to the market in Cardiff, many times; but there was something different about Haven, something more alive and bustling than he'd ever seen in Cardiff. He tried very hard not to gape at the items on sale, but there was just much effort he could put into looking jaded about his surroundings.
"It's okay, you know," Captain Jack's voice brought him out of his thoughts.
"What do you mean?" The man was certainly confusing.
"It's okay to look around. It's not like you've ever been here before…right?" The man looked as if he was enjoying himself, and Ianto couldn't help but wonder if it was at his own expense. "You're allowed to be curious."
"Lack of curiosity has never been a problem for me," Ianto admitted.
The captain gave him his famous smile. "I don't doubt that one bit."
Okay, Ianto did walk into that one, and he should have expected to hear that particular tone. He decided not to dignify it with a response.
They continued on up the main street, walking side by side when they could. Ianto might have been put out by Captain Jack's silent treatment over the last day and a half, but he was making up for it now, pointing out various sights and generally being a very good tour guide. Ianto found himself letting loose of his irritation…just a little.
The main problem was, Ianto just didn't know what to think of the mercenary. He wondered if Captain Jack would go back to the cold man once they were back on the road, and if this gregarious individual was some sort of strange split personality that only came out when in a town somewhere.
He supposed he'd have time to find out.
Eventually, Captain Jack pulled him into a small corner café, claiming a table under a colorful awning. "I eat here whenever we're in town," he explained, grinning. "They have the best meat pies you'll ever taste…just don't tell Mistress Heather, okay? I'd hate for her to get jealous." He winked broadly.
"I won't say a word, sir," Ianto averred, smirking.
A waitress came and took their orders. Ianto decided to follow the advice about the meat pies, which seemed to please Captain Jack. He had no idea why that gave him a warm feeling in his chest; perhaps he'd just had a bit more sun than he should have.
Once the woman was gone, Ianto found himself under the scrutiny of Captain Jack's intense blue eyes. "So…how are you, Master Ianto?"
Ianto blinked, he hadn't expected that question. "Doing fine, sir."
The mercenary wasn't convinced. "You're in a situation you've never been in before, traveling with complete strangers. I'd think "fine" isn't quite the word you're looking for."
"What do you want me to say?" he asked quietly. "That my decision to come was a mistake?"
Captain Jack sighed. "Not at all! It was the right thing to do. I am sorry though, that I haven't been more of a help."
'You've been…preoccupied." Although Ianto didn't know by what.
"That's still no excuse for not at least making sure you knew where you stood with the rest of the team."
Ianto was saved from saying anything to that by the arrival of their food. Not that he could have gotten a word out, he was too surprised by the apology. He took a bite of his meat pie, in order to avoid saying anything even after the waitress was gone.
The pie was just as good as Captain Jack claimed. He made an inadvertant "yummy" noise.
"See…I told you," the mercenary said, tucking into his own meal. "It's like eating a little piece of one of the Heavens."
They ate in silence, leaving Ianto with his thoughts once more. He would take glances at his companion at times, through his eyelashes, watching the other man eat. Their conversation had managed to throw him for a bit of a loop. After the last day or so, Ianto would have bet good coin that Captain Jack was thinking that he'd made an error in bringing Ianto along on the mission. But obviously that wasn't the case, and it changed the way Ianto himself was seeing things. Before, he'd thought he was a burden; now, not so much. He'd wait to see what Captain Jack wanted him to do. Then he'd be in a better position to judge his worth to this team he'd found himself on.
"Well…fancy seeing you here!"
The strange voice drew Ianto out of his thoughts, and he enjoyment of the meal. A man stood at their table, and he was grinning like some sort of maniac. Short curly hair framed a hawk-like face, and he was wearing a red tabard that Ianto was able to identify as being from one of the western kingdoms. His armor was also western, as was the curved sword on his hip.
And, for some really strange reason, Ianto didn't like how this stranger was looking at Captain Jack.
Captain Jack, though, didn't look at all happy to see this person. In fact, even though Ianto didn't have any experience in such things, it looked very much like the mercenary wanted to kill the man.
Just when things were going so well…
Jack glared up at the unwanted interruption into his and Master Ianto's dinner. It had been four years since he'd last seen John Hart, and it was all coming back to him just why he never wanted to see the man again.
"Don't you have somewhere else to be?" Jack demanded.
"Nope," John answered, grinning. "You going to introduce me to your friend?"
Jack glanced at Master Ianto, and couldn't quite interpret the expression on the archivist's face. Which, in a way, was a very bad thing; he'd just started making inroads on reading the younger man – which hadn't been too hard, at least since they'd left the inn, when he almost seemed to lower his guard for a bit – and now all that was gone, lost behind a mask that Jack had seen before, those times at Torchwood Castle when he'd been the guest of the Baron and Baroness.
"What do you want?" Jack asked, narrowing his eyes and flatly refusing to do anything that John asked, just because he didn't want to encourage the man any more than he had to.
"Just came over to say hello, Jack," John smirked. He hooked the leg of a nearby chair with a foot, dragging it over to the table and making himself comfortable. "It's been a long time."
Not long enough, Jack didn't say out loud.
Instead, he retorted, "We didn't invite you to sit."
"Aw…but you didn't have to!" He waved a waitress over. "After all, I'm sure you're as glad to see your old partner as I am to see you!"
"Partner?" Master Ianto asked, calmly. Too calmly, in Jack's opinion. "In what way?"
"In every way," John answered lasciviously, before Jack could get a word in. "You must be a new member of Jack's team. I can see why he hired you, he always did have great taste in teammates. And it never hurts to have a bit of eye candy around."
Jack really didn't like the way John's eyes were roving over Master Ianto. He ground his teeth, and somewhere in the back of his mind he wondered if this was jealousy; but he dismissed the feeling as protectiveness instead. John Hart was probably one of the most dangerous persons Jack had ever met.
Before Jack could say anything, Master Ianto was standing. "I believe I'll go back to the inn, sir," he said coolly, not looking at Jack. Without another word, he began to walk away.
Jack half-stood in reaction. "Ianto…?" he called out, completely willing to leave John to his own devices.
The archivist stopped, stiffening. "I'll leave you and your…friend, to talk about old times." And with those parting words, he was gone.
It wasn't until Jack had returned to his seat, that he realized he'd just called Master Ianto by his familiar name, and that he actually hadn't been given permission to do so. Damn.
"Well, he's a bit touchy," John observed.
"Don't you know how to treat anyone with respect?" Jack hissed. Why was he even wasting his time?
The man shrugged. "Respect is highly overrated." The waitress brought his order; a rather large glass of the local brew. "So…what's up? You looking for work?"
"Have a contract." He pushed the rest of his meal aside, having lost his appetite.
"Too bad. We always worked well together." John leered at him suggestively.
"Forget about it." Jack stood. "As far as I'm concerned, you could drop off into the Abyss for all I care, after what you pulled on me."
"Oh please. You can't tell me you'd have done the exact same thing!"
The Captain stared at John, as he lounged back in his chair. Jack remembered that mission vividly, and John's betrayal. It had actually hurt at the time, but now it simply made him furious.
"John, as hard as it may be for you to understand…no, I wouldn't have." Jack threw a handful of coins onto the table, to cover his and Master Ianto's meal. "Now, I would appreciate not seeing you, ever again."
With that, Jack left the other man, and headed back to the inn. What had been a pretty good day had gone downhill pretty quickly.
Captain John Hart watched as his ex – his still damned sexy ex – strode away into the crowd. Well, that hadn't gone well at all. Not that he'd expected anything else, but it would've been nice if Jack had found it in his heart to forgive him.
He finished off his drink, then left the café. He was very curious about Jack's new play toy. Not that Jack had let a lot slip, except for the name…Ianto. John wondered if he could get anything from any of his informants with just that name alone. The man's accent pegged him as a Cardiff-man, so that had to narrow things down a bit.
Walking down the High Street, John let his eyes linger on several of the passers' by, yet his thoughts were miles away from finding someone to share his bed that night. He really wanted to know more about this mysterious Ianto, and what Jack's new contract was.
He wondered if it had anything to do with Torchwood Castle.
That would make sense, since Jack was so far up Baroness Gwen's ass that he needed a torch to see where he was going. Add to that this Cardiff-man…well, there would have to be a connection, unless Jack had taken a sudden liking to the accent. Although, the man wasn't anything to sneeze at. He could definitely see the attraction.
Eye candy, indeed.
Yeah, John wouldn't have minded a piece of that.
The house he was looking for was in an alley just off the High Street. It was a ramshackle affair, with dirty windows and overgrown front garden. John shook his head, wondering why his contact had to live in such a shithole. He knew for a fact that the man made big bucks with what he could do.
He knocked on the door, half afraid it would collapse inward. John was about to knock again, when it flew open, to reveal his contact.
Adam Smith was an enigma. No one knew where he'd come from, only that he'd settled there in Haven about three years ago, and had set up business as a Seer. John had been skeptical; after all, this was magic, and magic was becoming pretty rare. As far as John was concerned, the man was some sort of con artist.
He'd been proven wrong.
So now, Adam was one of his main contacts for information in the United Kingdom. John paid him quite handsomely for his skills, and Adam was more than willing to do what John asked. The Seer didn't have much of a conscience. Which John absolutely adored.
"You gonna invite me in?' He gave Adam one of his ingratiating smiles.
The Seer stepped aside to let John enter the house. Adam was fairly handsome, and John would've gladly slept with him if it weren't for the fact that the man gave him the creeps. There was something off about Adam Smith, and John really didn't want to know what it was. As long as the man gave him good information, that was fine.
The interior of the house was a little better kept than the outside, with comfortable but threadbare furniture and shelves of books. The air smelled a bit stale, and John had to bite back a cough as he walked inside. "Got some work for you," he said, making himself comfortable in an overstuffed chair.
Adam looked at him with those eyes of his; John couldn't meet their gaze, and really had no idea what color they really were. "What is it this time? Wanting to know the way into a sweet young thing's bed?"
John went for the innocent look, which even he knew he didn't pull it off very well. "Would I ask you that?"
"Of course you would."
"Okay, maybe I would. But this is strictly business."
"Fine. " He took a seat opposite. "Tell me what you want. And I want my money upfront this time. The last time you took off and I didn't get paid for months."
"You don't trust me?"
"Not as far as I can throw you."
Well, John never thought the man was stupid. "There's a new guy traveling with Harkness' group. I want to know more about him, and the contract they have going."
"Is he good looking?"
"Does that matter?"
"It does to you."
Damn. "Yeah, but that's not what's important."
John sighed. "I want to know about the contract. Now, I know you won't tangle with Jack, but this new one will be an easier catch for you."
"Damn right I won't tangle with Jack fucking Harkness. The man nearly killed me the last time I tried."
"Like I said, you'll be doing your magic tricks on his man."
"I'm not so sure I want to risk that, either. Harkness has made it perfectly clear what he'll do if anyone messes with a member of his crew. Why do you want to know, anyway?"
John wasn't exactly sure. He thought it had more to do with getting something on Jack than anything else. But, if he had to admit to himself, there was a part of him that actually wanted Jack back in his life, to forgive John for betraying him. If he could figure out a way to do that…maybe make himself indispensable or something…
There was a tiny voice in his head, screaming at him that it was far too late to make it up to Jack, and even if it weren't that this was definitely not the way to do it. Besides, John had his own contracts now, and some of them he just knew Jack wouldn't agree with.
"I wanna know what this new contract is. That's all."
Adam looked like he didn't believe it. Yep, the man wasn't at all stupid. John wondered if Adam had been poking around in his head, in the Seer's off time.
"No, I haven't been inside your head."
John started. "Like you just were now?"
"No…it was written all over your face. Gods know I can read you like a book, Hart."
He'd had enough. "You going to do this, or not?"
Adam didn't answer. He just kept staring at John with those eyes. John was starting to feel really twitchy when the Seer finally spoke. "Fine. What can you tell me about this guy you want me to read?"
Ianto didn't return to the inn right away; he needed some time to himself.
He didn't want to admit how much that "friend" of Captain Jack's had disturbed him. He wondered vaguely if it was some form of jealousy, but then realized that was really stupid because he had absolutely nothing to be jealous of. It wasn't like there was anything between them. Besides, the mercenary frankly confused him, with this cold and hot attitude he had.
Although…hearing him use Ianto's familiar name had felt…nice. The only problem was, it would make it harder for Ianto to keep a distance, because the captain would insist even harder that Ianto call him Jack. He really couldn't say why he felt the need to keep that distance, except for the man's past behavior. He simply couldn't take any sort of friendship at face value, based on Captain Jack's reputation.
But he had enjoyed their day out, up to the appearance of that man at the café.
Ianto wandered, lost in thought, poking his head into random shops along the way. The scent of old paper and leather caught his attention, and he found himself stepping into a book shop. It was almost like being home, back in the Archives at the Castle; surrounded by shelves stuffed with books and scrolls. And, for perhaps the first time since this mission started, Ianto felt totally at peace.
The interior of the shop was brightly lit from large windows facing the street, dust motes swirling as Ianto walked amongst the shelves, taking in the titles on various book spines and scroll tubes. It seemed most of the books were old ones, although nothing that he could tell was especially antique. Also, the majority of the titles were fiction, which pleased Ianto inordinately. He'd always had a secret passion for phantasmagorical fiction, thanks to his Gran. Perhaps he could find something interesting? He'd brought one book with him on the journey, but having a back-up would be ideal.
He was busily searching along one shelf when something got his attention.
It was a book called Fantastical Tales. It was wedged between what looked like a collection of childrens' stories and an historical fiction. Ianto stared at it, a small smile decorating his face, as his mind processed the strange feeling that had suddenly intruded itself into his brain. Needing to confirm, he lifted his hand up, to touch the book's spine.
His fingertips tingled.
The book was magic.
Ianto's smile turned into a grin. He pulled the book from its place, lovingly stroking the cover. It had been a very long time since he'd found something magical outside the Torchwood Archive, and it pleased him that his ability hadn't dulled one bit. He concentrated on the book, the tingling in his hands increasing as he let his personal power work out what he was sensing. Some sort of warding, he realized. He wondered how long the book had sat there, the warding spell within it hiding it from anyone who hadn't had his gift. A perception spell, and something he'd only run into once in his time with Torchwood.
Oh, he wanted to explore this book much more thoroughly. If it was being hidden from non-magicals – which is what the perception spell was primarily used for – then there had to be something in it that whoever had warded the book had wanted to hide. He wondered how it had come to be in a book shop, of all places.
Above everything, Ianto loved a good mystery.
Tucking the book under his arm, the archivist meandered through the rest of the shop, until he felt he'd seen everything the place had to offer. He paid for his book, then left; once outside, Ianto noticed that the sun was considerably lower than it had been when he'd gone inside. He probably should have been back to the inn hours ago. He wondered vaguely if anyone had even noticed that he'd been gone.
He strode down the street, not noticing the little jauntiness in his step. He had a new book, and a new puzzle to solve. Perhaps he'd let Toshiko in on his discovery; she had a fairly good grasp of magical theory, plus she was pleasant to be around. Of course, she'd ask how he'd known the book had been bespelled, which might cause a bit of a problem…no, he'd keep it to himself for now. Working out what the perception spell had been hiding would make things a bit less boring for him during the long days on the road.
He stopped in his tracks at the sound of the unfamiliar voice calling his name. Ianto glanced around, trying to figure out who knew him, and saw a blond-haired man approaching. The stranger was smiling as if he'd just discovered a long-lost friend, and the archivist shivered slightly although he didn't know why.
"Have we met?" he asked politely, but with a chill in the words.
"Sure we have," the man answered brightly. "We met at the book shop…remember?"
A hand rested on Ianto's shoulder, and suddenly…
"Are you looking for anything in particular?"
Ianto glanced at the blond man who was attempting to help him. "I'm just looking, but thank you."
"You might be interested in this particular book," the helpful person said, pointing toward a volume called Fantastical Tales. I'm sure you'll find it interesting. I'm Adam, by the way."
Yes, he remembered…
But something still wasn't right.
Adam kept smiling. "You don't look so good. Let's get out of this crowd, shall we?"
Ianto acquiesced, not sure why he was trusting this stranger.
He found himself in an alley, his back against the solid brick and Adam leaning against him, his hand still on Ianto's shoulder, the other coming up to rest on the archivist's forehead. Ianto felt somehow frozen, although he wanted to fight back against the unwanted touch.
Now…what is this contract Harkness has? Remember…
The voice was in his head, he couldn't ignore it. The memory came.
"This scroll describes both the Dagger and the Gauntlet as very powerful," Ianto was speaking, "so powerful that using them could very well addict their user into wielding them all the time."
"What exactly do they do?" The Baroness asked.
Ianto remembered that the Baroness had been standing at the desk, looking down at the scroll he'd laid out.
"The Dagger supposedly steals the souls of its victims, and passes that energy onto its handler," Ianto answered solemnly. "The Gauntlet can bring the dead back to life.".
"Let me guess," Captain Jack finally spoke. "You want me and my people to go after these Artifacts?"
"Yes, we do," the Baroness answered quietly. "You'll be well compensated."
There we are...and what is this Gauntlet and Dagger? Remember…
"Getting back on track," the Ianto in his memory continued," as all of us here are familiar with the legend of the Immortality of the Deathless, I won't go into too much about it. However, this scroll has some other details about the tale that don't appear in current versions."
"And this is important how?" Captain Jack asked.
He recalled how frustrated he'd been, the feeling as strong now as it had been then.
"The first major change comes with the idea that the Deathless could, in fact, die under the right circumstances. This would involve using two items: The Dagger of Darkness and the Gauntlet of Resurrection."
Something was wrong; there was a strange itching in the back of his mind, like something was trying to escape his skull by burrowing its way out. This wasn't right…the voice was making him remember.
Fascinating…and just who are you? Show me…
The brooch lay heavy in his hand, the red dragon of Cardiff and the oak branch of Mastery…
"You're the youngest ever to be promoted to Master Archivist, Ianto," the Baroness said. "Congratulations."
The voice was silent for once. The itch in Ianto's head was growing stronger, and he knew what was causing it but could do nothing about it.
So, you're not one of Harkness' pets…how do you know him then?
No! He wanted to scream, but the voice was in control…No more!
They were dancing so closely it was almost obscene.
Ianto tried to fight back once more, but the memory of that night wouldn't go back into its little box.
"The whole castle knows about those two."
"But she's engaged to Lord Rhys…"
"I forgot you're new here, Ianto," Steven replied. "You don't know all the intrigues yet. Don't worry though; even apprentices like us get to hear all the good gossip."
"So…who is he then?"
Steven laughed. "Captain Jack Harkness, the mercenary. He'll flirt with anything, as long as it's breathing. And you can't blame the Baroness, really. The man is sex on legs, even the ones who aren't inclined to men think so."
What was happening to him, was a violation. Ianto wanted it to stop, in that part of mind that wasn't coughing up memories at him at his attacker's whim. The itching was growing more intense, but then he really didn't need to feel it to know what was occurring was connected to magic in some way.
You can't fight me, Ianto. Your memories are mine, and they're so very delicious.
Ianto remembered, how the fruit punch that night had been sour on his tongue, and how he really hadn't wanted to attend the ball, and how the Baroness putting herself on display like that had disturbed him. And the feeling of a warm body bumping into him as he'd gotten more to drink.
"Pardon me, sir."
"No, it was my fault. Although bumping into you has certainly been the highlight of my evening…"
Captain Jack Harkness was a very attractive man…and Ianto had been saved from saying anything at that point.
"Oh, hello Lisa."
"You still owe me a dance."
And he'd let Lord Sir Hallett's daughter lead him onto the dance floor, because honestly he'd had no idea how to respond to Captain Harkness' blatant flirting…
The voice was laughing at him.
How sweet. Who are you really, Ianto? Show me a memory of who you are…
Despite being trapped in his own head, Ianto could feel his fingertips tingling. They were trying to feel the magic, and for some reason they couldn't. It was all in Ianto's brain, scratching to get out.
He didn't want this person to know about him, but no matter how hard he fought, he couldn't throw him out…
"It's too bright."
"Blink and it'll go away."
"But Gran…why can I see the light?"
"Because you're special. The magic runs in your veins, and it lets you see things others cannot see."
"I don't wanna see it! It's hurts!"
What is this?
It wasn't one of his…was it?
Ianto didn't remember this, and yet it was his Gran, he knew it was her, and she was speaking to him but he didn't understand what she was saying. The memory was like an echo, buried and forgotten.
The voice was almost panicking.
"You're too young to know how to use it, Ianto; but some day you'll come into your own power."
"I don't understand, Gran!"
No, he didn't understand. He'd only discovered his ability a couple of years ago, just before his promotion…how could this have happened when he'd been a child?
The itch was becoming even worse, he could feel it traveling down his arms into his already tingling fingertips and he needed to stop what was happening now!
What are you doing?
The voice was suddenly gone. Ianto snapped out of whatever trance he'd been in, finding himself back in the alley, the stranger who'd called himself Adam standing in front of him. Ianto's hands were somehow clasped around the other man's wrists, pulling his hands away.
Adam's eyes were glowing.
But the man was also panicking, his mouth opened in a wide "o" of shock. "You can't have broken loose!" he gasped, beginning to struggle in Ianto's grasp.
Ianto's fingers were tingling so badly it felt like ants were crawling just under the skin. The accompanying feeling in his head made its way into his eyes, and he could see into Adam and read what it was that the man had been doing to him.
He'd been told his power would only work on objects.
"You had no right!' Ianto growled, tightening his grip.
Adam whimpered. "I'm sorry! Please, just let me go…"
Ianto didn't answer. There was something building up inside him, something that rivaled the way his power felt, a warmth that begged for release. His anger and humiliation fueled it, and the only thought he had was to make Adam suffer for what he'd done…
There was a sudden bright flash, and the man who'd attacked him was flung backward, into the opposite wall, where he slumped to the ground, unconscious.
Ianto's knees turned to jelly, and he almost sank to the ground himself. The only thing keeping him upright was the certain knowledge that he didn't want to stay there, that he'd somehow done something to his attacker and he didn't know what.
Somehow he picked up the discarded book he'd bought; in his new, strange sight it was glittering as if the leather cover had been liberally sprinkled with diamonds. Then he staggered from the alley, and back amid the people moving along Haven's main street.
He had no idea how long he walked, his brain felt like it had turned to mush. The itching was still there, but not as strong, and he could feel the magic in the book he clutched so tightly and it acted like an anchor, keeping him grounded.
The people moved around him, and Ianto couldn't care if they were staring or not. He was completely focused on his task, to get back to the inn and collapse, because at least there he'd be somewhat safe.
Suddenly, there was a strange glow before him, and it made Ianto stop in his tracks as it moved toward him quickly.
It was like watching an angel. The shape was human, but made of golden light; sparkling strands twisted around it, almost like shooting stars, arching away and then settling back into the main body of the being.
His mind registered "Magic" even as the shape was reaching for him.
"Ianto!" the being called, as a strong grip on his shoulders kept Ianto from falling to the ground.
The voice was familiar, and his mind couldn't register it.
Instead, he reached up with one hand, his fingers stroking what should have been a cheek. The magic sang under his touch, and he smiled. "Beautiful," he whispered, sighing.
And, in between one blink and the next, the glow was gone.
Revealing the handsome features of Captain Jack Harkness.
When Jack got back to the inn, none of his team was there.
This wasn't necessarily a big surprise. Jack knew them well, knew that each of them would be out and doing their own thing while they had the chance. Toshiko would be visiting with the Elven guild, catching up on news from home; Suzie knew most of the weapons' masters in Haven, and chances were she'd be looking for the her next favorite object of stabitty goodness; and Owen…well, Owen was just as well known in the brothels as Suzie was with the weaponers.
But he was a little disappointed that Ianto hadn't returned, like he said he was going on.
Jack sighed, practically plopping down on the bed nearest the window, pushing one of the bags that had been set on it aside when it tipped over onto him. The rooms they'd taken had been his last resort in seeking the illusive archivist, and when he wasn't there Jack couldn't come up with a solid lead as to his whereabouts. Probably out exploring Haven, most likely. Not that Jack blamed him for wanting to look around; he just wished Ianto had waited there at the inn.
But the man really hadn't known how long Jack would have been. And Jack realized just how selfish he was being by even considering that Ianto would have even thought about it.
That was when Jack also realized that he'd gone from thinking of him as "Master Ianto" to simply "Ianto."
Taking liberties in his own head, obviously. He'd just have to wait to do the same thing out loud. While Jack wasn't someone that much into titles, he did know that being respectful was something most people appreciated, and he'd abide by the current rules of society in this case.
He shifted, and the bag he'd pushed away shifted with him, sliding back against his thigh. Jack snorted, grabbing it and meaning to toss it back toward the pillow…and didn't, a strange curiosity overcoming him. He knew it belonged to the archivist, had seen Ianto with it. Jack glanced around – even though he knew he was alone in the room – then opened the bag carefully, feeling a bit guilty about snooping but ignoring it.
The first thing Jack saw was the scroll case containing the copy of the Deathless tale. It still disturbed him, how close to the real events that story was. All the others had held a kernel of truth, but not like this one. And that Ianto had heard almost the same version, when it was so very different from what the troubadours liked to bring out on festival days…he shivered slightly, not wanting to even touch the leather case the thing was in.
Lying with the scroll case was a smaller case, and Jack knew it had to contain the glasses that Ianto was so fond of wearing. He snapped the case open, taking a good look at them as they lay glittering in the sunlight coming in from the window.
After over a thousand years of experience, Jack could recognize a magical item when he saw it.
The thing was Jack knew that not just anyone could use enchanted objects, which meant that, somehow, Ianto was able to access that magic. Jack wondered just how the archivist could do that, just how whatever personal power he had worked. And if he asked, that could possibly give his own knowledge away.
The captain sighed, putting the glasses back into the bag and fastening it closed once more. He'd lost the urge to search any further, deciding that this little mystery was enough for now. Even back when he was mortal, magic had been fading from the world. He could remember Master John's sadness at his admission that he'd been the last of his race, a race of near-ageless wizards who'd once lived on an isolated island and who'd been content to practice their own power beyond the realms of Man and Elf and Dragon. They'd kept to themselves, and that had led to their eventual downfall, although Master John had never really explained what that downfall had been.
Many of Jack's memories of his earlier life had faded to mist after so long, but that terrible longing on his old friend's face was still so vivid in his minds' eye. Master John; Lady Rose…Jack's first death at the hands of Demons and the second death, how he'd realized that he'd always come back every time – thank you, to the border guards from what would be called the Eastern Kingdom in later centuries for teaching him just how painful it could be to be shot through the heart with a crossbow – these were the things that stayed with him for so long.
But…that scroll had said there was a second Wizard, from Master John's own race. Jack wasn't sure what to think about that. He was disinclined to believe it, because that would have meant that Master John had been wrong…and that broke Jack's heart, that there'd been another Wizard out there and his friend hadn't known about it. No one should have to spend their existence alone.
Jack was very familiar with being alone.
He sighed again, rising from his seat on the bed and heading down toward the common room. In that moment he really wanted to find one of his crew, to sit with them and pretend that his thoughts weren't so very heavy. To flirt and joke and carry on like he was a normal person, that he wasn't weighed down by the millennia of his long life.
In truth, he wanted to find Ianto.
He couldn't explain why. Not really. Perhaps it was because he and the much younger man had something in common; having been touched by magic in ways most people wouldn't understand. Jack wondered if Ianto would understand, if he broke down and admitted that he'd been changed by the Deep Ways and was no longer truly human. Could he risk that? Risk telling a near stranger his one secret, the one he hadn't admitted to anyone in centuries?
Or would it be a complete disaster?
No, he wouldn't take the chance. There wasn't anything that could be done about it, anyway. Even if Jack believed that the Dagger and Gauntlet could end his undying existence, this was his life now, to live it as he had to. He wasn't about to burden anyone else.
He must have spent more time with his thoughts than he'd realized, because when Jack stepped outside the inn the sun was lower on the horizon than it should have been. Well, it wasn't often that he became so introspective, it was natural he'd lose track.
Jack glanced up and down the street, wondering just where the wayward archivist could have gone. It seemed a bit lunatic to stand there and guess, but then the captain's luck had always been pretty good.
He began to stroll back toward the café, thinking that Ianto might not have even made it back to the inn, that he'd found something to look at and that Jack had simply missed him on his way.
He hadn't even taken three steps when he saw the archivist coming toward him.
Jack grinned. His guess had been the right one. Yes, his luck was holding.
But there was something wrong.
Ianto seemed to be staggering slightly, as if he'd had too much to drink. Jack frowned, starting toward the other man, wondering what had brought on a sudden bout of drunkenness that early in the day. Certainly it couldn't be because of John…that didn't make any sense.
As he got closer, Jack made out a book, clutched to the young man's chest like some sort of life preserver. Where had that come from? The mercenary vaguely remembered passing a book shop during their travels earlier. Of course, Ianto had stopped there. The man most likely breathed and slept old books.
Reaching out, Jack called his name, once more forgetting to put his title before it. "Ianto?"
Ianto sagged in Jack's grasp, as if his legs couldn't hold him up any longer. Any thought of him being inebriated vanished, because there wasn't any alcohol smell on him. Something else was wrong.
Ianto raised his eyes to meet Jack's, and the captain gasped in shock.
Those blue eyes weren't normal. In fact, they weren't even blue anymore.
The pupils had totally blown, as if he'd taken something mild-altering; but the golden ring that surrounded those black orbs was testament to the fact that no type of drug was responsible for Ianto's current condition.
It was like looking into twin eclipses. Jack suppressed a shudder at the sight, his mind literally screaming at him that this was magic, Deep Magic. It was old and dark and terrible…and so very wonderful.
Fingers stroked his cheek, tracing tingling warmth along Jack's skin. "Beautiful," Ianto whispered, those dark eyes filled with awe.
Jack would have normally thoroughly enjoyed the intimacy of it all, if it weren't for the fact that it was freaking him out more than a little. Somehow, he didn't think Ianto was seeing him, but something else.
Jack shivered then. Deep Magic recognized its own.
Then, in the span of one blink, Ianto's eyes went back to normal, his pupils shrinking so quickly it was as if those eclipses had never existed. The archivist's knees buckled, and he would have fallen if Jack hadn't been there to keep him upright. "Let's get you back to the inn," Jack murmured, taking the book from the man's hand and slinging a steadying arm around his waist.
"Jack?" The question was full of confusion, and a more than a little fear.
"I've got you," the captain answered, guiding him down the street. Thank the Gods they didn't have far to go. If things weren't so crazy he would have relished being called by name, and not "sir".
As he helped Ianto, Jack's thoughts swirled around his stunned brain. He'd known that Ianto had to have some sort of magic, but this….no one could access the Deep Ways, not anymore. The race of Wizards was long gone, and from what he'd been able to learn, Lady Rose's spell shouldn't have been possible, that the all-too human woman couldn't hold that sort of power within her. Hells, even Ianto's scroll had touched on that fact, saying that Master John had taken her away to free her from the Magic. That begged the question: how was Ianto able to do it?
Jack half-dragged the archivist into the inn, then up the stairs to their room. Ianto was quiet, allowing the mercenary to get him onto the bed, once he'd moved the bags out of the way. He played with the idea of trying to locate Owen, to have him look Ianto over, but discarded it almost immediately; the battle surgeon wouldn't know how to handle this sort of thing anyway.
No, Jack was the closest thing they had to an expert. Even Tosh's knowledge wasn't enough, the Elves didn't really deal with the Deep Ways. So it was up to him to deal with it.
Taking the pillows from both beds, Jack propped the archivist up, then sat back. "You up to telling me what happened?"
Ianto wouldn't look at him. Instead, his long fingers were busily picking at the seam of his tunic. Jack felt the urge to reach over and stop the fidgeting, but refrained. "I…I was attacked," Ianto finally answered.
Jack frowned. That wasn't what he'd been expecting. "Did you get a look at them?" If he could get a good description…
"Yes. And a name…Adam."
As Ianto described the man who'd dragged him into the alley, Jack's eyes narrowed. He recognized the person immediately.
"Go on," Jack urged.
Despite the fact that Ianto still wouldn't look at him, Jack could see the confusion in him. "He…somehow got into my memories. I'm…not sure how." His head lifted, and he met Jack's gaze for a second before looking out the window. "He asked me about you…about your contract."
The mercenary sighed. "You showed him?"
"It wasn't like I had a choice!" the archivist exclaimed, his eyes going back to Jack's once more. "He could see what was in my head; manipulate me into remembering what he wanted."
"I believe you." Jack grew angry; he had heard of Adam Smith, and knew the man advertised himself as a sort of Seer, one who could look into someone's head and read what was inside. He'd brushed it off as some sort of charlatanism, but it seemed as if he'd been wrong. "So he knows about the Artifacts?"
"I'm afraid so." Ianto looked ashamed at the admission.
"It wasn't like you could do anything about it."
"I should have tried harder! When I realized he was using magic against me…" His voice faded out, his eyes falling to his lap once more.
"And how did you know that?" Jack regarded him closely.
"As you well know, I have certain…experience with magical Artifacts. I believe it's one of the reasons I'm on this trip."
It was at that moment that Jack knew he wasn't going to get a straight answer from the man, as to just how he knew the Deep Ways. Ianto wasn't going to give up anything, unless Jack somehow forced him to.
He wanted to ask Ianto what he'd seen, when he'd looked at Jack with those eyes. What had prompted the man to call him beautiful. He guessed it was recognition of some sort; recognition of the magic that had changed Jack so irrevocably so long ago.
Ianto's fingers were moving once more, only this time his left hand was inching toward Jack's own, where it lay on the coverlet. He wondered if Ianto's magic was somehow triggered by touch. That would have explained the tingling Jack had felt when the archivist had stroked his cheek.
He really wanted to have that touch again.
"Well," Jack finally said, after watching that hand move closer, then suddenly back off, "I'm going to tell you what I saw when I found you, because quite frankly it confused and freaked me out a little."
Those blue eyes caught his again, and Jack could see something that looked like fear in them. "What did you see?" he asked softly.
"I saw magic," he answered honestly. "I saw magic in your eyes. It was frightening…and breathtaking."
John didn't know what shocked him more: Adam's curse-filled rant as he stormed into the room…or the fact that the Seer's house didn't collapse under the hard slamming of the front door as he actually entered.
Adam rushed past, and John was caught up in the whirlwind of his passing, too startled to react to being pulled along in the other man's wake. They ended up in Adam's bedroom – a place John had had no intention of being in…ever – with the Seer flying about the cluttered room, pulling out a large backpack from the wardrobe and beginning to pack things into it haphazardly.
"What are you doing?" John finally asked, after Adam's third trip to stuff something into the pack.
"Getting the hells out of here," Adam rasped. "It's not worth my life hanging around."
He'd never seen the Seer so spooked before. "What happened?" Not that he was sure he wanted to know…
Before he knew it, John was slammed against the wall, Adam's forearm across his throat. "You bastard!" he snarled. "Why didn't you warn me the target was a gods' damned mage?"
The mercenary was startled for a split second, then began laughing. "You're crazy, there aren't any mages left alive!"
"Then you know nothing!" Adam released him. He raised his arms, letting the sleeves of his shirt fall away. "How do you explain these?"
John actually gasped. Adam's wrists were red, with what looked like severe burns. "Those…must hurt."
Adam rolled his eyes. "You think?" He went back to his hasty packing. "The man used his power to break my hold, then flung me across an alley. I had no chance."
"And so you're just gonna run away?" John tried to make it confrontational, but thought he must have failed. A mage…that was impossible.
"Hells yes! I'm not hanging around to get my ass handed to me! Forget Harkness…forget even the Knights of Cardiff! I'm not pitting myself against a mage."
"What do the Knights have to do with anything?" John was very familiar with them; they were the premier peace-keeping force in Cardiff, answering only to the Baroness herself. Their leader was some poncy Lord…Hallett, he seemed to recall. He'd gotten into some trouble while in Cardiff once, and had spent a bit of time in one of the cells below Cardiff prison as their unwilling guest.
"You really didn't know shit about the target, did you?" Adam looked at him in shock. "And here I was just thinking you liked to keep me in the dark. It wouldn't be the first time…"
He grabbed the pack off the bed, striding out of the room. John followed, really wanting to know what else Adam had discovered. "Hey, I paid you; what else did you find out?" He grabbed the Seer by the arm, stopping him from leaving.
"Gods, you bloody well owe me twice what you paid!" Adam was practically shaking. "Fine…you want to know what I found out? The man you sent me after is Ianto Jones, Master Archivist from Torchwood Castle! And when the Baroness finds out I messed with one of her own…but that's nothing, nothing to what a full-blown mage can do! Not even Harkness scares me, and I know what he's capable of!" He shrugged out of John's grip. "I'm outta here. You'd be smart to do the same, because whoever comes after me is gonna know I was hired by someone. And if I'm caught I'm not going down alone."
With that, Adam left the house, not even bothering to shut the door behind him. John went with him; he really didn't have a choice. "But what about the contract?" he demanded. He knew damned well that the Baroness wouldn't send someone important out on a mission, unless the mission itself was vital.
Adam huffed. "They're after some Artifacts…a dagger and a gauntlet. The dagger steals souls, and the gauntlet resurrects people. That's what they think, at any rate. So, you can see why they'd want a mage along with them! Now, leave me the fuck alone, Hart. I don't want to see your ugly face around me ever again."
He dodged, losing himself in the crowd. John let him go, knowing there wasn't anything else he would be getting out of the Seer. It did give the mercenary a few things to think about, and while he was sure Adam had been exaggerating about this Jones guy – really…a mage? Please! – John was dead certain that the contract was what he'd said it was. Torchwood Castle had a history of going after magical shit like that, so it only made sense. Someone had once approached him about breaking into the castle and stealing an Artifact, but John had never been stupid. No way was he going to spend any more time in prison than he absolutely needed to.
However, the information Adam had gathered could be useful. John just needed to figure out how…
Ianto's head wasn't itching anymore, which was a good thing. Now he just needed to figure out what was happening to him, and he'd be happy.
He wanted to look at Jack, but couldn't. It wasn't out of embarrassment; although the mercenary could do that to him very well indeed, especially when he got started with the innuendo. No, this was almost fear…fear of what he might see in the man, or perhaps what he might not see.
His hand seemed to move on its own, inching closer to Jack's own, as it rested beside him. Ianto wanted and dreaded to touch him, to see if he could feel what he'd had before, that tingle of magic that was as familiar to him as his own name.
It confused him. The creature of light that had morphed into Captain Jack Harkness was something very much beyond anything he'd ever encountered, in either real life or among the books and scrolls of his Archives. Perhaps he was some sort of angel? That would make sense, in a way. Ianto didn't really believe in angels, but maybe he'd been wrong? Weren't angels supposed to be beings of pure magic? And wasn't that what Jack was?
There was a drive in Ianto to know; it had been with him since he'd been a child, curiosity that wouldn't leave him alone no matter how much he tried to suppress it. In that moment, all he wanted to know was what exactly the being was sitting with him, examining him with those intense blue eyes as if trying to read him like one of Ianto's own books.
He managed to jerk his hand back, where it had crept toward Jack's once more. His fingers weren't tingling anymore, but he wanted them to.
"Well," Jack said – and now Ianto was thinking of him as Jack, and not any other way, which just felt right despite his need for some sort of distance between them – "I'm going to tell you what I saw when I found you, because quite frankly it confused and freaked me out a little."
Ianto's eyes snapped up, to meet Jack's own once more. Something lurked there, something that he couldn't identify. Suddenly, despite the archivist's natural curiosity, he actually didn't want to know.
But he had to. "What did you see?" He'd meant it to sound assured, but instead the words came out hushed.
"I saw magic," the captain answered. "I saw magic in your eyes. It was frightening…and breathtaking."
Ianto shook his head, although he couldn't tell if it was in denial or just plain shock. Magic? How had Jack seen that? And how did Jack even know to recognize it, unless…this just confirmed what the archivist was thinking, that the mercenary was some sort of strange being, made of a magic that was supposed to be mostly dead now. His Gran had once said that magic called to magic, in one of those many stories she'd told him when he'd been young.
That thought brought back the memory he'd seen, under Adam's influence; the memory he didn't remember having. Show me a memory of who you are…
That hated voice came back to him, and he shuddered, he couldn't help it. Ianto really didn't know how he'd broken free of the man, but knew it had to have something to do with magic. Some sort of magic that Ianto hadn't known he had.
And yet, if that single memory was right, his Gran had known.
But why didn't he remember, until it had been dredged up by another person's power?
He could feel Jack's eyes on him, waiting for a response. And in all honesty Ianto didn't know what to tell him. If Jack was indeed some sort of magical entity, then he'd know exactly what Ianto was, and what he could do. He could confess everything, and the mercenary would understand…
But…why would an angel of some sort disguise themselves as a mortal?
That thought was like a bucket of ice water down his back, making him doubt the conclusion he'd come to. Perhaps what he'd seen had been wrong, somehow? Maybe Ianto had been even more affected by the attack than he'd thought, and had just been seeing things?
The whole situation was just too confusing. And the presence of the man currently in the middle of the confusion wasn't helping any.
"I…don't know what you mean, sir."
And he didn't. Not really. Because Jack had somehow seen Ianto's magic in his eyes, and that had never happened before.
The captain managed to look both irritated and amused. "You called me Jack, outside."
"I…apologize. It was inappropriate." Ianto needed his distance back. He needed time to work through the tumbling thoughts crowding his brain.
"No, it wasn't. I gave you permission to back at the castle." He sighed. "You're not going to tell me what happened, are you?"
Ianto opened his mouth to answer, but couldn't. Jack – no, Captain Jack, he needed to get the familiarity out of his head – was gazing at him, and the archivist knew he was seeing a side of the man he'd never seen before, beyond the flirtatious mercenary who rumor had it would bed anything willing. It bothered him that he'd even considered that Jack would be so shallow.
"I can't tell you what I don't know," he confessed tiredly. And he didn't know. He had no idea what had happened, and all he wanted to do was try to figure it out before it drove him mad.
That seemed to surprise Jack, judging from the way his eyebrow went up. "You really don't have any idea?"
"I believe that's what I said…sir."
"You know, sarcasm actually suits you," Jack smirked.
Ianto found himself chuckling. "I don't think anyone's ever told me that before."
"What can I say? You make sarcasm sexy."
"Are you going to continue to harass me?"
"Yes. You have a problem with that?"
The archivist simply quirked an eyebrow. He didn't say that it actually felt good to be back on this sort of footing with Jack. It was normal for them, and it gave back a little of the equilibrium Ianto had lost.
Jack smiled, and it had a type of fondness in it that Ianto hadn't seen before. "Why don't you get some rest? I need to do a few things, but I should be back before dinner." He stood, but not before brushing his hand against Ianto's gently, seeming an almost afterthought.
There was nothing.
Well, that would have been lying. While Ianto didn't feel the familiar tingle of magic, there was a completely different sort of tingle that accompanied that soft touch. Jack's eyes were on his, so Ianto didn't miss the flicker of disappointment in them. Jack had obviously been hoping to see whatever it was that he'd seen before, and it must not have happened.
To be frank, Ianto was disappointed as well.
"I hope you know you can come to me if you need to," the mercenary murmured.
Ianto nodded. He did know, but wasn't quite certain how he did. "When I figure it out, you'll be the first to know."
Jack stood in the middle of the living area of the abandoned house, hands on his hips and feeling extremely frustrated.
It appeared that Adam Smith had pulled a runner.
He cursed silently. Jack should have known he would; the Seer would have wanted to avoid a confrontation. The captain had waited just a little too long to pursue him, but then he'd been more concerned about Ianto than anything else. It didn't help that the master archivist was seriously intriguing him, and that just completely distracted him from taking care of this certain piece of business.
He really wanted to know who'd hired Smith to go after Ianto. Jack knew enough about the Seer to realize he had to have been paid to do it. And, although he didn't have proof, it was just too much of a coincidence that he'd run into John Hart on the same day as the attack.
Jack had lived long enough not to believe in coincidence any more.
It hadn't taken him long to find the man's house; but then, Smith hadn't exactly hidden himself away, advertising himself to anyone who'd pay his fee. Jack had been slightly disturbed by him ever since he'd heard about the so-called Seer. The thing was, the man had never represented himself as something he wasn't, and there was no law saying he couldn't make money using magic. Not that Jack had been convinced – until now – that what Adam had done was actual magic. He'd thought it was perhaps some sort of hypnosis, but from what Ianto had reported Jack had changed his mind. It did make him wonder just how Ianto had gotten away, but the mercenary wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth…at least, not at that moment. He was just glad that the archivist was safe.
Deciding it was silly just to stand there, Jack began to search the place, looking for some sort of clue as to where Adam might have gone. The house was cluttered, and before he knew it he was sneezing at the dust he was kicking up. It wasn't the pleasant, leather scented dust of the Torchwood Archives; this was stale, and dry, and felt like it was coating his throat in a viscous goo. He swallowed harshly as he continued to search, but the more he did so, the more he became convinced that he wasn't going to find anything.
Still, he tried. If anything, it worked out the anger he'd been feeling toward the man who'd gone after one of his own.
Jack was feeling ridiculously possessive, and he knew it. He would have sighed over the revelation, but he didn't want to start a coughing fit.
As he proceeded to trash the house, Jack thought about what Ianto had said. He believed the archivist when he'd said that he hadn't any idea what had happened, although he was also convinced that the younger man did know more than he was telling. Maybe he didn't understand the Deep Ways, but there was still magic involved; Jack had seen it, back at the castle. And his eyes…damn, Jack really wished he knew what Ianto had seen in him, that had made the archivist call him beautiful. But he also knew he couldn't force it.
Jack just had to come up with a way to convince Ianto to be open about it. Problem was, he wasn't sure how he was going to do it. He suspected it was to do with trust; all Ianto had really seen of him had been his confident and flirtatious exterior, and Jack was certain the younger man really hadn't seen much in Jack's behavior to warrant the sort of trust that would make the archivist comfortable in sharing whatever secret Ianto had. Perhaps it was time to build up that trust. It would certainly be a step in the right direction.
Jack just wasn't sure how he was going to proceed.
The house wasn't going to reveal anything, and Jack gave up once he'd finished the living area. He was also tired of the dust, and didn't think he could take it anymore. He wasn't the neatest person in the kingdom, but even Jack could tell this sort of mess was a bit much.
He left the place, not even bothering to close the door behind him; after all, that was how he'd found the house left in the first place. It told him that Smith had left in a hurry, most likely wanting to escape anyone who'd come after him, to make him answer for his attack upon Ianto. It was a bit gratifying that Jack could engender such fear, but at the same time he couldn't help but wonder if the Seer had fled for other reasons besides the mercenary's own reputation.
He wondered if Smith had also seen what Jack had, within Ianto's eyes. If the man had been using magic to get into peoples' heads, then it made sense that he'd recognize the same in Ianto.
And that worried Jack. More than he really wanted to admit. Because, knowing about the magic – when Ianto apparently didn't – put the archivist in a position of danger. And while Jack didn't know exactly who Smith might tell, there was still the concern about whoever it had been to have hired the Seer.
John Hart was totally not to be trusted, and that didn't have all that much to do with the way the man had betrayed Jack. The captain had known that John was entirely unreliable, and yet had let him get under his skin anyway. Jack wasn't exactly certain what that said about himself, personally. Only he was determined not to let that happen ever again.
Jack sighed. He had two different options: report the attack to the local authorities, or to leave it be and wait for John's next move. Because, as sure as Jack was Deathless, there would be a next move.
He was always in favor of being a good citizen, but the idea of going to the local Knight with what had happened just wasn't appealing. For one thing…any report of an attack against Ianto would make it back to the Baroness so quickly it might as well have been flown there. And knowing Gwen the way he did, Jack was certain she'd cancel the mission, just to make sure her precious Master Archivist was safe. Jack wasn't prepared for that, although he was still of a mind that this was a waste of time. Getting the contract cancelled almost felt like a failure, and Jack wasn't one to accept that sort of thing.
It also didn't help that, personally, he wanted to spend more time with Ianto. And while it had a lot to do with what had occurred just that afternoon, there was more to it than that. How much more…Jack wasn't willing to admit just yet.
So, reporting this was out. He'd just have to make certain to keep both eyes open for anything that John might throw at them. If it had been John behind this, and Jack didn't doubt it for a moment that he was.
There was something he could do, though.
Jack headed out into the late afternoon shopping crowd, turning toward the eastern edge of town. It would make him late in getting back to the inn, and he'd told Ianto he'd be back for dinner, but this was important.
He took the Forge Road, striding along the road purposefully, not letting his attention be diverted by the various shops and metalworkers' booths along the way. Jack knew exactly where he wanted to go, and even though he might not know all the weapons' smiths that Suzie did, there was one he trusted in Haven above the others.
This particular shop was near the middle of the Forge Road, and Jack didn't have any problem finding it despite the fact that he hadn't visited the place in a couple of years. The master smith who owned it was actually based in Cardiff; but one of his apprentices had gone out on his own, and had kept the same high level of craftsmanship as had his former master. Jack appreciated that, and it was to them that he went when he had business.
Young Master Jake Simmons grinned when he saw Jack enter the shop. "Captain!" he greeted warmly, holding out a well-calloused hand for Jack to shake.
"Master Jake," he returned the greeting, and took the offered hand, leering good-naturedly. "You're looking quite as good as ever."
The weapons' master chuckled. "And you haven't changed one bit."
"Why mess with this level of perfection?"
That changed the chuckle into a full-blown laugh. "No change there, either!"
Jack smiled, leaning on the counter. "How's Master Mickey?" He'd known Master Mickey Smith for years, ever since they'd run into each other over a spot of trouble involving the Mayor of Cardiff and some very dangerous explosives that almost destroyed half of the town. It had been that particular problem that had brought him and his team to the Baroness' attention.
"Doing fine, he's due here for a visit in a couple of weeks. He'll be sorry he missed you."
"Give him my regards."
"I will." Master Jake turned slightly more serious. "What can I help you with, Captain?"
"Well," Jack answered, "I'm looking for a sword for someone who's never used one before. Something that'll be handy in actual combat, but easy enough to train with."
"For a younger person, then?"
"No, just someone who's never had the need to be armed." He didn't add that, compared to himself, everyone was a younger person.
Jack smirked. "You could say that."
"Well…let's see what we have."
It took about half an hour for Jack to find a suitable blade. It was in the style of a long sword, only with a slightly thinner blade. The hilt was simple, and wrapped in leather. "I think this will do," he murmured, taking a few practice swings. It was nicely balanced, and would do perfectly for a first weapon.
"Excellent choice," Master Jake replied, as Jack handed it back hilt-first, the blade itself resting on his clothed forearm. "Let me get you the sheath. There's also a matching knife; would you want that?"
"Sure." Jack waited for Master Jake to prepare his purchases, pleased with what he'd picked out. Now, he could only hope that they would be enough to offer some sort of protection…
After a few more minutes of small talk, Jack left the shop, promising to stop in on his next visit to Haven. He made his way quickly back to the Pegasus and Crown, his mind considering several different scenarios and discarding each and every one of them. If he was honest with himself, the thought of putting Ianto in danger without some way of defending himself was pretty much abhorrent, and Jack was a little bothered by the idea that he hadn't actually considered it. Tosh had been right, back on the road…he hadn't really thought this through.
And he should have.
Sometimes he could be the biggest idiot.
As he stepped into the gloom of the common room, Jack could make out the form of Suzie Costello sitting at the table by the fireplace, a drink held in both hands. There was no other sign of any of the others, which didn't surprise Jack in the least.
He moved to join her, setting the wrapped sword against the wall next to his chair. "I'm a little surprised to see you back," he said by way of greeting.
Suzie shrugged. "Brought some things back, decided to stay for a drink. In fact, if you'd been a little later you'd have missed me. There's some sort of production going on in the town square, and I thought I might check it out."
"Glad I caught you then." He waved toward the nearest tavern wench, and asked for a pint of their best ale. Once she was gone, he went on, "Got a little something for you to help me with."
"If you'd wanted to get rid of that broadsword or yours," she said, motioning toward his purchase, "you could have come to me to help pick something out. That's almost a baby sword for you, isn't it?"
"It's not for me," he answered.
"Let me guess…it's for your new boy toy. Am I right?"
"It's for Ian…Master Ianto, yes," he grimaced, hoping she wouldn't catch his slip into the familiar. "But I resent the implication that he's any sort of toy – "
Suzie held up her hand. "Sorry, Jack. But come on…we both know you brought him along because he's pretty."
"Why does everyone automatically assume I have ulterior motives?" He threw up his hands, narrowly missing the returning waitress with his drink. He apologized to her, winking.
"Because you always do," his second-in-command smirked.
"Look…I'm not going to lie and say I'm not…attracted. But the only reason I asked for Master Ianto to come along was because I genuinely thought he'd be useful." Okay, it wasn't the only reason, but it was the best one he'd had, and the only one he was going to admit to out loud.
Suzie looked at him with those dark eyes of hers, and Jack resisted the urge to twitch.
"So…what do you want me to help you with?" She changed the subject back to its original course.
"I was hoping you'd help me train Master Ianto – "
"Why me, Jack?" It almost sounded like a whine.
"Because you're the best we have. C'mon, we both know you'd be a master if you'd taken the exams…"
"That's flattery, and you know it."
"No, it's not. You're that good, Suzie."
"But you're still miles above me, Jack."
The captain knew she was right, but there was no way he was going to explain that he had over a thousand years' experience. "I just think he'll benefit from your training style than mine. And I'll be there to help, too."
"Yeah, we're all familiar with your "training style", as you put it." The sarcasm hung heavy in the air.
Jack actually felt his ears get a little warm, which hadn't happened in so long he couldn't remember it last. "Look, you're just the best person for the job."
"I can't believe you're saddling me with an amateur!"
"It's better he learn now, than us having to clean up down the road." A part of him wanted to mention the attack, in order to push home his point, but Jack couldn't. That would open up a can of worms he really didn't want to mess with.
It was Suzie's turn to throw up her hands. "Fine. Whatever. But Jack, if he turns out to be totally inept, it's all on your head."
"I appreciate this."
"Yeah, I'm sure." She got up to leave. "See you in the morning, Jack."
The captain watched her go, letting out breath he hadn't been aware he'd been holding. Yes, it was best that Suzie handle Ianto's training. Jack knew what he himself was capable of, and if he wanted to gain the archivist's trust then the first step might be to learn to keep his hands to himself.
It took John Hart approximately three minutes to decide what he wanted to do.
He made his way quickly back to the inn he'd been staying in; not one of the most reputable places in Haven, but the barmaids certainly made up for that. Within another ten minutes, he was on his horse and riding out of town.
He couldn't help but grin at his plan. That whole magical Artifact business…well, it made perfect sense that Torchwood would be hunting for such tat. Honestly, he just didn't get it, didn't know what the big deal was. It wasn't like anyone could actually use the stuff, was it? All it would do was gather dust somewhere in the castle…
That train of thought led him back to what Adam had said about that Jones guy being a mage. John snorted in disbelief. As far as he knew, there weren't any such things as mages anymore, just like there weren't any dragons or unicorns hanging about any longer. Things died, and they didn't come back. So, as far as he was concerned Adam had been blowing smoking up his proverbial skirt.
Not that John hadn't worn a skirt before. He just didn't know how women did it, with all the layers and still the wind got up to your private parts…but it sure was fun taking those layers off, the anticipation enough to make a man orgasm before the last petticoat dropped…
Okay, that was enough of that. Anymore and the ride would become distinctly uncomfortable.
The house he was looking for was a few miles outside of Haven; a large, country place that was just old enough to actually have a moat around it. The moat had long since dried up, but the stone-lined trench still made an impressive barrier when the drawbridge was up.
It wasn't, and John rode across the thick wooden bridge, the horse's hooves making loud clomping noises that echoed all the way into the country house's courtyard. He was greeted by a liveried servant, who took the reins and led the horse away.
John looked up at the house. It was just as old as the moat, at least three centuries. Two above-ground levels, perhaps more underground. The reputation of this place was well-known, and it made the perfect destination for John's information.
Now he just had to get in to see the owner. Which would be easier said than done.
He headed into the country house, the foyer well shaded after the low sunlight from outside. Another servant awaited him, managing to look down his nose at John even though he was several inches shorter than the mercenary. "May I help you?"
John smirked. "Maybe later, handsome. But right now I need to see your boss. "
"Lord Henry sees no one," the man answered snootily.
"Yeah, well…he'll wanna see me. Tell him Captain John Hart is here, and that I have information for him."
"As I said, Lord Henry sees no one."
"Look, I'm well aware the guy is practically a hermit, but if he doesn't hear what I have to say, he'll regret it. This is hot, I'm telling you. So go let his Lordship know I'm here, and it's in his best interest to hear what I have to say."
The servant gave John the once over, and it wasn't in a good way. Then the man withdrew, leaving the mercenary to cool his heels. The foyer was decorated tastefully, but it was apparent that no one actually spent any time there. It was just a bit too pristine, and it made him feel a bit uncomfortable.
The floor and paneling was of a dark wood, the tables matching. Various pieces of artwork decorated those walls, and even John could tell they were worth a lot of money. Stairs went up to the second level, and a window let light in at the top of those stairs. A rich red carpet runner lined the steps.
It took a while, but eventually the servant returned just as John was becoming bored out of his skull. "Lord Henry will see you."
"I thought he might." John winked. "Lead the way."
The man did so; up the stairs and then left at the landing. The entire house looked completely unlived in, which was vaguely disturbing. John actually suppressed a shiver.
The servant stopped at a closed door. "Lord Henry is ill. If you tire him or upset him, you will be ejected from the premises immediately."
"Yeah…sure." John shrugged, not really caring. He reached around the man, to open the door.
The bedroom was well-appointed, and the only room that John had seen so far that looked as if someone lived in it. It was cluttered with years' worth of trinkets, and books overstuffed the shelves. The furniture was the same dark wood as the rest of the house, although a little less well maintained.
Lord Henry Parker took up the middle of the large bed, pillows stacked behind his head so he could sit. He looked pale and drawn, the blankets pulled up to his chest, arms resting on top of the blue duvet. He resembled someone's Granddad, looking innocuous and small in his dark pajamas.
John knew though, he was anything but. Behind Lord Henry's friendly exterior there was a strong-willed man who'd built himself up in the world, until he owned half of Haven and had made for himself a trading empire that extended into several of the surrounding kingdoms.
There were also the rumors about this illness Lord Henry had, and that it was actually fatal. That the man would do anything in order to find a way to keep on living, that he was afraid to die. John didn't get it, of course. He certainly wasn't frightened, but then he was pretty sure he'd end up in one of the Hells anyway, and in a way that prospect excited him.
"So," Lord Henry said, "I understand you have some…information, for me." Under the man's smile, there was a steeliness that made John just a little bit nervous.
"Yeah," he answered. "For the right price."
That got him a calculating look. "Perhaps you should let me determine what your news is worth?"
John smirked. "I'll give you a clue: Baroness Gwen's out looking for some new Artifacts."
"And that interests me how?" Lord Henry tried to make it sound like he didn't care, but there was a glint in his eye that gave him away.
"What if I was to tell you they might help with your…condition?"
Lord Henry paused. "Tell me more…"
During the next week, things seemed to settle down a bit between the various members of Captain Jack's mercenary band.
Ianto found himself more at home, as it were, among the disparate personalities he was surrounded by. He was beginning to believe he might actually begin to fit in, despite all his doubts to the contrary. He could handle Owen's near-constant demands for coffee; Suzie's pummeling him in the name of "sword practice"; and Jack's verbal harassment – which was fine, Ianto didn't honestly mind it, and it was a change from the sullen, quiet Jack who'd started the mission. Toshiko pretty much kept up her ends of conversations with him as they traveled, and he thoroughly enjoyed talking to her.
He was beginning to believe this trip wouldn't be as bad as he'd thought it would.
Of course, the moment that crossed Ianto's mind, he wondered if he hadn't jinxed them in some way.
Then he dismissed it. His Gran had often warned him about borrowing trouble, and shrugged it off to him being a bit more paranoid than usual.
And he had to admit, the sword training was a good idea. It had taken him a bit by surprise when Jack had suggested it – he'd pretty given up trying not to call the captain Jack – and Suzie had actually stopped moaning about his being untrainable on the second day. It had certainly helped that Ianto had fairly decent upper body strength, from lifting heavy objects in the Archives, although his wrists got pretty sore, pretty quickly. Ianto knew he'd never be proficient with a sword, but at least with some work he'd be able to defend himself.
But he was proving much better at using a bow.
They'd all discovered that fact when Toshiko, deciding that using a sword was all well and good, but sometimes a person had to defend themselves over long distances. And so, the Elven woman had taken it upon herself to show Ianto how to use her bow.
Ianto thought everyone had been surprised at how quickly he'd picked up on it. After only a few shots, he was hitting the target every time. It might not be bulls' eyes, but it was usually pretty close. Of course, he'd also learned just how painful it was to have the string snap against his wrist. He thought Jack's expression had been priceless at the range of curses Ianto knew.
The archivist rubbed the bracer that now decorated his left wrist. It had been a gift from Jack, just after the bowstring incident. Ianto could still feel Jack's fingers on his wrist as he'd checked the injury, then had removed the leather bracer and had buckled it around Ianto's own arm.
Ianto wondered if Jack knew the bracer had been exposed to magic.
He could feel it, tingling against his skin. He'd tried to determine just what sort of magic it was, but for some reason his ability wasn't pinpointing it. He'd had yet to sense Jack's own personal magic again; it had been just that one time, after the attack. It was like an itch he couldn't scratch, in a way…knowing that there was something beyond the surface of the handsome, flirtatious mercenary, something that went beyond the mundane. Something that he had no way of identifying, because his own power wasn't cooperating.
He'd even tested it on the bow. Once he'd shown he could use one, Jack had also given him the bow that had been tied to the captain's saddle, saying he didn't really use it all that much. Ianto had quickly realized that the bow had been bespelled as well, only this time he'd been able to figure out the two enchantments on it fairly fast; a basic Protection spell, coupled with Preservation magic. So that wasn't the issue. Ianto had to conclude that it was the type of magic that was stymieing his ability. Somehow, the kind of power that Jack seemed to access was different from what Ianto himself was familiar with. It also meant that he wouldn't be able to figure it out on his own.
Which meant he'd have to talk to Jack…eventually.
Ianto really wanted to trust him. In fact, he could honestly say that he did, in fact, trust the mercenary. He'd said as much to the Baroness. He was just so used to keeping his own secrets that it was like breaking the habits of a lifetime.
And he wasn't about to bring up anything in front of the others. Ianto could stretch his confidences to include Jack – and perhaps Toshiko – but he simply didn't know Owen and Suzie well enough, and he wasn't at all sure he trusted them as much as he did Jack. So any sort of conversation would be in private…if there was a chance of privacy, while on the road.
On the seventh night out of Haven, Ianto got his chance…if he was willing to take it.
"Hold up!" Jack called, during the torture sessions that passed as weapons training.
The woman stopped her weapon, and Ianto pulled his own sword back, resting the point of the blade on the ground. He'd been touched that the captain had actually purchased it for him, and Jack hadn't even taken any money in repayment.
"You can't get any power in your thrusts if you don't have the right stance," the mercenary went on, getting up from where he'd been sitting on the grass, watching the pair of them spar. "Ianto, relax your shoulders a bit. You're way too tense and you'll break a bone if someone comes at you at with full strength."
It gave Ianto a small thrill to hear Jack calling him by his given name; he couldn't very well withhold permission from him, if everyone else was being familiar.
There was an even bigger thrill when Jack moved behind him, putting his hands on Ianto's shoulders and kneading gently. "You can't be all tensed up and expect to win in a fight. Loosen up a bit."
It was the first time Jack had actually touched him without it being something that could be construed as accidental. Ianto resisted the urge to hum with the pleasantness of it. "I'm trying," he answered, doing his best to ignore the feeling. "But isn't it in the very nature of being in an actual sword fight that makes it a tense situation?"
Jack chuckled. "There's tense…and then there's tense. It's perfectly acceptable to be on edge during a fight; in fact, it's preferable. But also the nature of sword fighting means you need to have a certain fluidity and instinct when you move, and you can't have either if you're all stiff. Now…I want you to get into guard stance, and try to loosen your arms and shoulders a bit."
Ianto did as he was asked, planting his feet and lifting the long sword into the proper position. He tried to tell his muscles to unclench, and it seemed to work…especially with Jack giving him a bit of an impromptu massage. It was really obscene what that man's hands were doing to him, and it made Ianto realize that this was one of the very few times Jack had actually touched him since the inn at Haven.
"That's it," the captain said encouragingly. He removed his hands, and Ianto felt somewhat bereft at the loss of contact. "Now, Suzie's going to come at you. Just keep loose and remember what she's shown you."
Jack stepped back, and Suzie went into her attack. Ianto parried, and immediately felt the difference; the shock to his wrists and arms was somewhat less than before, and his movements didn't feel nearly as stiff.
He managed to block several of her moves, and that earned him applause not just from Jack, but from Toshiko as well. It also earned him a "Well done," from Suzie. Owen made some sort of snide comment about coffee boys and pointy objects, then lounged back on his bedroll.
Ianto and Suzie sparred for a while longer, until Jack called a halt for dinner. Toshiko had managed to trap three rather large rabbits, which meant a night where they didn't have to dig into their supplies to eat. Ianto was glad; he was getting a bit tired of the trail bread they'd picked up in Haven, it was hard enough it made his teeth hurt to chew it.
The conversation around the fire was pleasant, although Ianto was more than willing to listen instead of participating. Some of Jack's stories were so outrageous the archivist had a hard time believing them, yet at the same time the man was so larger than life that it made a strange sort of sense that he had larger than life adventures. He simply enjoyed the camaraderie of the mercenary band, it almost made him feel like he belonged somewhere other than the Archives at Torchwood Castle.
A couple of times he caught Jack watching him, his sharp blue eyes regarding him from across the fire. The flames danced in those eyes, causing golden flecks to form in their depths. The second time Ianto caught that stare, he looked back, holding that gaze…
And that was when he realized he was a bit more than just attracted to Captain Jack Harkness. Ianto wondered just when that had happened, because he would never have even considered it possible until that moment.
Ianto couldn't work out whether this meant he was completely screwed or not.
He stood up quietly, not wanting to interrupt the conversation between the mercenaries. He suddenly felt the need to be alone, to work out exactly what was going on in his head. He was certainly well aware of the captain's reputation, and Ianto had often found himself on the receiving end of Jack's flirting. He needed to work his mind around this, because he was fairly certain that what he was feeling was pretty one-sided. Plus the last thing he wanted to do was to endanger their mission by letting his feelings get out of control.
The archivist headed into the trees, needing privacy. The breeze made the leaves around him rustle, and it sounded almost comforting. The near-silence let his thoughts wander, his mind automatically telling him that he was being really stupid, that it was only natural for him to feel this way because of Jack paying attention to him. Rationally, he knew that wasn't exactly accurate; others had done the same, and he hadn't been attracted to them. No, it was Jack; just Jack, and no one else.
But there was also the magic to consider. The magic he'd seen in the captain, and Ianto couldn't help but wonder if that didn't have something to do with how he was feeling. Even as a child he'd been fascinated by magic, even before he'd known about his own Catalyst ability. Could what he was experiencing be because he somehow recognized a kindred spirit? Someone who might understand what Ianto was, and accept it?
He leaned against the trunk of a tree, sighing. Ianto couldn't read anything into what was going on, simply because he couldn't get past the idea that it wasn't something his personal magic was influencing. Damn, this was just too confusing.
Ianto jumped at the question. He turned to see Jack standing there, his arms crossing his chest and his eyes shadowed. He'd removed most of his armor when they'd stopped for the night, and was wearing a simple blue shirt and trousers. His great sword was buckled at his waist.
"Yeah," the archivist answered, although it took a couple of tries to get that single word out. "Just…needed some private time."
"That's understandable." The mercenary took a step closer. "Although it's not exactly safe to be out here on your own. We're well into Weevil country, and there's a chance one could come up on you before you even knew it."
Ianto had heard – and read – stories about the Weevils, but hadn't realized they were close enough to be a danger. "I didn't know that."
"Now you do." Jack took another step forward. "We might want to get back to camp. We have quite a ways to go before we get to the next town, and I'd really like to get an early start in the morning."
"Jack…" Ianto's voice faded out on the name, wanting to take the chance, to tell Jack about his magic and what he could do. He just felt this was the time to do it, when they were alone.
Another step closer and Jack was within touching range. A part of Ianto thought this was too close, that he wouldn't be able to gather his thoughts together enough, but he had to try. He still couldn't figure out why the man was wreaking such havoc on him.
"Look, I need to be…honest with you about something." Ianto took a deep breath, trying to calm his suddenly racing pulse. His mouth went dry with nerves.
"What?" One of Jack's eyebrows went up in curiosity.
Ianto opened his mouth to answer, but Jack suddenly jerked forward, falling against the archivist and almost knocking him flat to the ground. On instinct Ianto grabbed him tightly, Jack's body completely limp in his arms.
It took five full seconds to register the crossbow bolt protruding from the captain's neck.
He gasped in shock, almost letting go of the captain's weight, yet he managed somehow to get them both down, Jack's body cradled against Ianto's chest. The archivist tried to check for a pulse, but knew it wouldn't do any good.
Jack was dead.
He barely had time to register that fact, when a sharp pain blazed through his head, and the night went darker than it had been before.
Jack came back with a gasp, struggling to rise.
However, there was a strange stabbing pain in his neck; he reached up, felt the shaft of the crossbow bolt – damn, he hated death-by-crossbow! – and with fingers going quickly numb yanked the offending wood from his body.
He died again quickly, bleeding out from the damage done to the major artery.
The second time he came back, Jack was pissed.
Sitting up, he looked around to see if he could spot who the fuck had shot him. The area was quiet, the only sounds were of insects humming in the dark. Jack scrambled to his feet, his hand gripping the hilt of his great sword.
That was when he realized he was missing someone…someone very important.
Jack realized that the archivist had seen him die. Twice. His eyes found the tree where the young man had been standing, and there was no sign that Ianto had even been there.
Had the archivist run off after Jack had been shot? Or had the sight of him resurrecting – twice! – been too much? Or…was the mystery of the missing man something else?
Jack did something he hadn't done in a quite a while…he panicked.
It didn't last long, before Jack realized that panicking wasn't a smart thing to do, under the circumstances. He had no idea if whoever it was who'd attacked him was still in the area, and he couldn't really make up his mind if Ianto being gone was a good or bad thing.
Quite possibly bad, if Jack had to guess.
It was almost too dark to see, but Jack scanned the area, looking for any sign that would lead him to his attacker, or to Ianto. He cast about, finding easily the archivist's footprints in the dead leaves and dirt around the tree where the man had been standing when Jack had found him. It occurred to him that whoever had shot him had to have been a good aim, to hit such a small target as his neck, and in the gloom as well.
He then found Ianto's sword, abandoned on the ground just beyond some bushes a few paces away.
Jack really wanted to panic now. He picked up the sword, knowing that Ianto wouldn't have dropped it on purpose. That led him to the only conclusion he could come up with: whoever had killed him, had taken the archivist along with them.
The mercenary was furious with himself. He'd allowed himself to be distracted, and Ianto had paid the price. Jack knew damned well just how dangerous things were on the open road; simply because the Knights patrolled, didn't mean that the danger was any less. Even though he knew beyond certainty that it hadn't been Weevils who'd attacked – they didn't use weapons, and preferred their meals alive and kicking – there were brigands and such inhabiting the areas between towns, and they weren't afraid to go after isolated travelers if it meant they could gain something from it.
He closed his eyes, trying not to imagine what could be happening to Ianto at that moment. Gods, if Jack had been paying attention to his surroundings, instead of focusing completely on the younger man, then this might not have happened.
Sometimes Jack had to truly wonder where his priorities really lay. Because, to be perfectly honest, he'd really followed Ianto out under the trees in order to…
No, don't think that. Concentrate on figuring out where he'd been taken.
With that thought, Jack grinned darkly. Whoever had taken Ianto obviously hadn't been aware that the mercenary had a way to track him…
He made his way back to the camp, catching sight of their fire through the trees. Jack stormed into the clearing, and his three team members jumped at his sudden appearance.
It was just as Jack had feared…Ianto hadn't made it back to camp.
"What the hell…?" Suzie asked, standing up as Jack moved past her to where he'd laid his packs earlier.
"Either something's happened," Owen added, "or that's one hells of a love bite…"
Jack had completely forgotten that he'd bled out just a short time ago, and that he had to be a mess. "Leave it," he snapped, setting Ianto's sword down so he could rummage through one of his saddlebags.
"What's going on?" Toshiko added her own question, her usually soft voice made a little louder by concern. "And where's Ianto?"
Trust the Elf to figure it out first. "He's gone," Jack snapped, not finding what he was looking for. He cursed in a language that had been dead for almost a thousand years.
He felt a hand on his collar; turning sharply, he saw Owen trying to get a look at where Jack had been injured. "Lay off, Owen."
"Where'd the blood come from?" the battle surgeon demanded. "Let me check – "
"I've had worse from shaving," the captain snarled, shrugging off the man's hands. He really didn't want to get into his immortality with them. Damn, and he hadn't died in over a year…
"What do you mean, Ianto's gone?" Toshiko asked.
"That's exactly what I mean," Jack said, still digging through the clothing in his pack to find what he needed to. "We were talking; I was…knocked out; and when I woke up, he was gone and his sword had been left behind."
"Damnit, Harkness," Owen snapped, "if you have some sort of head injury – "
"I said I'm fine!" With a small cry of victory, Jack held up what he'd been urgently searching for. "I'm not the important one at the moment anyway."
"And if you collapse while we're looking for the coffee boy – "
"His name is Ianto, Owen. I'd appreciate it if you'd actually use it."
He heard Owen mumble something about it being his "time of the month" but Jack decided to ignore it. Instead, he cradled the small device in the palm of his hand, praying to the Gods he really didn't much believe in anymore that this would work.
"What is that?" Toshiko asked, leaning over his arm to see what he was doing.
"Looks like a compass," Suzie murmured, doing the same on Jack's opposite side.
"It is," Jack affirmed. "But it's a very special compass."
"What's so special about it?" his weapons' specialist inquired.
He didn't really want to take the time to explain, but he knew he'd just get hounded if he didn't. "You know that bracer I gave Ianto, when he snapped his wrist with the bowstring the first time?" At the women's nods, he went on, "It was actually magical. And this compass is attuned to the magic."
"So we can track Ianto with it?" Toshiko said.
"You've had that thing for as long as I've known you," Suzie put in. "What made you decide to use it now?"
Jack hadn't mentioned the attack in Haven; he hadn't wanted to, it wasn't really his place. But that meant he had to come up with a reason to use the magical bracer in order to keep up with Ianto's whereabouts. "He's…an important resource for Torchwood Castle," he finally answered. "The Baroness would null our contracts if anything happened to him."
"And it doesn't have anything to do with the fact that you drool over him at every opportunity?" Suzie asked sharply.
"No, it doesn't." Jack pinned her with a glare.
She managed to hold onto his gaze for a couple of heartbeats, then lowered her eyes.
"And I gave it to him now," he added, "because if I'd done it earlier, he might have been suspicious. I'd prefer he didn't know he was magically tagged, thanks much."
He glanced at Toshiko. "Because it's sometimes better that someone not know we're keeping that close an eye on them."
Of course, Jack was lying through his teeth. He'd given Ianto that bracer for the specific reason that he'd been worried about the events in Haven, and he simply hadn't trusted John Hart not to pull something else. He'd just had to have a reason to give it away; that much was true. He'd just wondered if Ianto had been able to sense the magic in it.
Thinking of his maniac ex made Jack wonder if, somehow, John hadn't been behind Ianto's abduction. He certainly wouldn't have put it past the man, but at the same time there was no real reason for John to do such a thing, unless it was some form or twisted jealousy.
But if it was, then why kill Jack? That didn't make any sense at all. Unless, somehow John had figured out about Jack's inability to die…
No, the captain was certain that John didn't know about that. There was no way he could. Besides, if he had, then why kill Jack anyway? So that supposition didn't make any sense. Jack was more inclined to believe a stranger had attempted to kill him, then took Ianto away for some reason Jack couldn't guess.
"So?" Owen demanded. "Let's get the coff – Ianto – back. Do your magic thing, Harkness." He made vague waving motions toward the compass in Jack's hand. "I'm not going back to drinking the rotgut you call coffee."
Jack barely managed to control his eye roll. "I need to concentrate. I haven't used this in a long time, so I'm a bit out of practice." That was an understatement; the last time he'd used the tracking bracer had been almost two hundred years ago, back in his bodyguard days. It had been handy when he'd had to keep track of troublesome clients. In fact, the only reason he'd kept it, was because he liked the way it looked on his arm. "Why don't you all start to break down camp while I work on this?"
That got some more complaining from Owen, but his team moved like a well synchronized dance around him, as Jack cradled the magical compass. He began to breathe deeply, trying to calm his mind enough to activate the tracking magic.
It was hard, though. He found himself very worried about what was happening with Ianto. With no real idea why the man had been taken, Jack's imagination was working full-time, conjuring up all sorts of trouble the archivist could be in. He had to get himself under better control, or he'd be of no use to Ianto whatsoever.
Taking another deep breath, Jack was able to finally still his mind enough to touch the compass' magic. It had been so long since he'd done anything like this, it was odd to do it now; he wasn't magical by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes he could use things that were, in ways, attuned to him. He knew he wouldn't've been able to use Ianto's glasses, but the compass and bracer had been around him for so long they were almost a part of him.
It was strange how the Deep Magic had worked on him; it hadn't given him any other power other than the one over death. Some people might think that being Deathless would be enough, but there were times when Jack wished he could do other things. And, the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that Ianto had seen how the Deep Magic had affected him. What that meant exactly, Jack didn't know. He'd been too afraid to ask.
It didn't help that Ianto was pretty damned secretive himself.
Although, Jack did wonder what the young man had meant to tell him, before they'd been so rudely interrupted. And would Jack's own intentions had gotten in the way of any sort of confession?
He'd never know, now. At least, not until they found Ianto.
Jack brought a likeness to Ianto to mind, the better to help the compass locate the bracer's wearer. He didn't really know if it was necessary to do that, but he did anyway.
As he concentrated, the mercenary watched the compass' needle begin to quiver. His heart did a little leap as the device began to work, spinning until finally settling down and pointing in a single direction.
"Got him!" Jack shouted, moving his hand to check the calibration. The needle turned with the motion, continuing to point in the same direction.
"We're almost ready to leave," Suzie reported.
Jack didn't want to wait, but knew he would need help from his team to get Ianto back. So he cooled his heels as his people finished, not wanting to risk losing contact with the magical bracer.
It was another ten minutes before the mercenaries were back in the saddle. Riding at night could be dangerous, but that obviously wasn't stopping Ianto's abductors.
And the last thing Jack wanted was for them to get too much of a head start.
Ianto awoke slowly, and the first coherent thought he had was that he wished he hadn't. His head ached abominably, and he was nauseous. He felt movement, and for a moment thought he was on some sort of boat; but the unmistakable smell of horse assaulted his nostrils and really brought the nausea to the fore. To top everything off, it felt as if something was poking him in the stomach and his shoulders were sore.
On the whole, he wasn't at all comfortable.
He tried to move, but couldn't. His arms were restrained, and when he made the attempt to get to his feet, he discovered that those were restrained, as well. Ianto groaned, realizing he'd need to open his eyes but dreading the prospect. He had a feeling it would just make everything so much worse.
And it did.
It only took a heartbeat for him to figure out why he was head down over something that smelled like a horse…it was because he was. Someone had slung him over a saddle, and it was the hard leather that was currently bruising his abdomen and aiding in the urge to vomit. His long fingers could feel the rope that bound his hands behind his back, and he had to assume that the same ropes were tying his ankles together as well. The blood was pounding in his ears, almost drowning out the sound of hoofbeats and the jingling of tack.
It all came back to Ianto in a rush.
Jack was dead.
The archivist bit the inside of his cheek, to keep yet another moan from escaping him. Even with his eyes open he could see the crossbow bolt protruding from Jack's neck, and the slack features that looked up at him as he'd held the mercenary's body. Knowing the man was gone hurt worse than it should. A lot worse.
Ianto had to push that aside for the time being. He didn't have time to mourn, as much as he really wanted to. It came to him that, whoever had killed Jack had taken him prisoner, for some reason he wasn't privy to. It was the only logical conclusion he could come up with. No one else would even think to sling him over the back of a horse; even though Jack's team didn't know him all that well, he just couldn't see them acting that callously. Unless they somehow blamed him for what had happened…no, he couldn't think that way.
He tried to crane his head up, to get a look at his surroundings. It hurt like the hells, but Ianto could make out a sparse covering of trees in his limited view; the sun was up, so it had to have been several hours since he'd been taken. Ianto let his head fall back, to rest against the leather stirrup.
Maybe this was just some sort of nightmare, and he'd wake up in camp to Owen's shouted demands for coffee.
"Welcome back to the land of the conscious," a voice cut through his aching head like a knife through butter. It was a voice he recognized.
It was some sort of nightmare, all right. One that he didn't see himself waking up from anytime in the near future.
"Kinda like the way your arse just sticks up in the air like that," the hated voice went on, accompanied by a hard slap across said arse. Ianto ground his teeth together, trying not to say something he was going to regret, because he certainly didn't want to end up dead.
Not like…no, don't think that. Don't let your brain go in that direction.
"What do you want with me?" he ground out, trying to hold onto his dignity.
"Maybe I wanted to try out a little bondage with you," came the laughing reply. "You have your safe word, honey?"
"Don't call me honey," Ianto snapped.
"Sweetheart? Darling? Eye Candy?"
"My name," he gritted, "is Master Ianto Jones. I suggest you use it."
The voice laughed. "Well, I'm Captain John Hart, but any sort of endearment works for me."
"Then how about bastard?"
"Now, now...let's not get personal."
"Personal? You kidnap me…kill Jack – Captain Harkness…and you expect me to not get personal?" Ianto wanted to scream; to say it out loud, that Jack was dead…that was the worst. It made the whole thing completely and totally real.
He couldn't see Hart, not from the angle he was hanging, although by the swat he'd gotten Ianto knew exactly where he was. He wanted nothing more than to get his hands free, and get some sort of vengeance for what this man had done.
"Yeah, well," Hart answered, sounding almost sorry, "I didn't want to do that, but there was no way I was going to get you away from him. If he'd only waited a bit longer, I could've grabbed you and been gone before you were even missed. I really didn't want to do it."
"And that's supposed to make it better?" Ianto asked harshly.
There was no answer. Ianto wondered just what Jack had gotten up to with this man, and if the mercenary really had as bad a taste in lovers as the archivist was beginning to think. No, don't think ill of the dead…
"I didn't actually kidnap you," Hart went on, ignoring Ianto's last question. "I'm just borrowing you."
"What do you want with me, Hart?"
"I want you to find the Dagger and the Gauntlet for me."
Ianto's mouth would've opened in surprise, if his jaw wasn't being held up by pressure from the stirrup his face was lying against. As it was, he was silent for a few moments, processing what the man had just said. He was about to ask how Hart had known about the Artifacts, and then it hit him: the attack in Haven. It had happened the same day he'd first seen the man, as he'd crashed into his and Jack's meal.
He knew it wasn't coincidence. "Oh…so your spy reported back to you, did he? After he assaulted me in that alley?"
There was a low chuckle. "You're good, Eye Candy. But then, I'd expect that from the Master Archivist of Torchwood Castle."
"Then you must know that kidnapping me will have every Knight of Cardiff after you?" He ignored what Hart had called him, even though it grated.
"Look, I was serious about just borrowing you. After you do this little thing for me, I'll make sure you get back home in one piece. Well…when I say in one piece…"
Hart faded out, leaving what he'd meant to Ianto's imagination. "Why do you want them?"
"Oh please…there's only one reason, and that's money. That's all that's important."
Ianto would have given anything to be able to look Hart in the eye, but as it was his entire universe was made up of a horse's side and the grass under its hooves; the smells of the animal and the not-so-gentle rocking as they made their way to wherever it was they were going.
"You can't be serious."
"Oh, believe me…I am. And you're gonna make sure I get my payment."
Ianto laughed. He had to, it was just too funny. "And it didn't occur to you that the maps and notes that I might have needed to find the Artifacts would be back at our camp? That I wouldn't be able to find anything without them?"
Of course, Ianto had memorized those scrolls. He just wasn't about to admit it.
Hart was silent. Very silent, and for a long time. Ianto tried to shift a bit, to take some of the pressure off his stomach. The hard leather of the saddle was rubbing him sore even through his tunic, and he suspected he'd have bruises by the time he was finally taken down from the horse. He also suspected that a bit of blood was running to his head, judging from the worsening of his headache.
"It would be best if you just took me back," he finally said. "There's no way you're going to get those Artifacts, and if you turn yourself in you might get a lighter prison term." He didn't add that, with the willful murder of a resident of Cardiff – not to mention a personal acquaintance of the Baroness herself – would most certainly net Hart an extremely harsh sentence. Add to that Ianto's own kidnapping….he doubted that the man would see daylight again…ever. But it would be preferable to a death sentence.
"Can't let you go now," Hart answered. "I might not be able to find the Artifacts, but I could get a hefty ransom for you. I'm sure the Baroness would pay handsomely for her pet Archivist."
Ianto didn't answer. He'd known it couldn't have been that easy to get away. Hart was desperate; he'd killed a man to get something that, now, he'd discovered he couldn't get. He'd have to try something to make up for his blunder. "What are you going to do with me?"
"Well," the man's voice turned sultry, "we could have a bit of fun – "
"No." Ianto didn't want Hart to come anywhere near him.
"You don't know what you're missing…."
"And I don't care."
"Then I'll just have to find a place to stash you until I can get my money."
Ianto didn't like the sound of that. He wriggled his fingers, wishing he could get his hands free. Not that it would do him any good, but at least he might be able to fight Hart off before the man abandoned him somewhere. It was at times like this that Ianto very much wished he was a bit more than just a magical Catalyst.
"You know, this would be easier if you just could tell me where those Artifacts are…"
There was silence again.
"Are you sure?"
Ianto rolled his eyes. "Even if I knew" – which he did, but there was no way he was going to betray that knowledge – "I wouldn't tell you. I'm not about to let two very powerful, magical items fall into the hands of a murderer."
"If you feel that way about it…'
"Then you're just gonna have to be stashed. And I can guarantee it won't be very comfortable for you."
Ianto didn't say that he wasn't very comfortable now.
Hart stayed quiet for a long while, and for that the archivist was grateful, even though it left him with his own thoughts for company. Most of the time he didn't mind; Ianto actually enjoyed the quiet times, when he could let his mind wander and let it catalogue itself into those neat, perfect compartments that he needed. His sister had once told him that he knew too much, that there was too much knowledge in his brain and that his mind shouldn't be able to hold all of it. Ianto cared about her opinion, but he'd always been a Gran's boy and that meant the two siblings didn't see eye-to-eye on things, especially on Ianto's "specialness", as Gran had put it. And her death hadn't brought him and Rhiannon any closer, despite both their efforts. She just didn't understand her quiet, intelligent, magical brother.
But this time, he couldn't help but think about Jack. The idea that he was dead, that Ianto would never see him again, refused to go into one of those useful compartments. Instead, it rattled around in his head like a loose stone in a bucket, disturbing his mental balance in ways it really shouldn't be doing. Ianto had come to care for Jack, and if someone had said that would have happened back when they'd still been at the Castle Ianto would have laughed at them.
He was well aware of Jack's predilections; after all, anyone who was even the slightest acquaintance with the man knew just how much of a flirt he'd been. One of the first things he'd ever said to Ianto had been a blatant come-on, and it had been only by the grace of Lord Hallett's daughter wanting a dance that had saved Ianto from having to make any sort of comment at all.
They'd met several other times over the years, Jack always trying to flirt his way into Ianto's good graces. Ianto had thought the man to be shallow, to only be interested in his own pleasures. But that had been before he'd seen how Jack acted around his team; he'd truly cared for them. Yes, he still flirted with them, but Ianto had known at once that nothing would ever come of it. There was far too much respect there, between the group and their enigmatic captain.
But it went beyond the respect that Ianto had gained. There was the knowledge that, somehow, Jack had been just as magical as Ianto was. Well, he'd never know what that magic had been, not now. And whether or not he'd been attracted to the captain in his own right, or if the magic he'd seen that day in Haven had been the cause.
His thoughts kept running in those directions, not stopping until the horse he was on had done the same. Ianto lifted his head tiredly, the pain making itself known once more, since he was no longer distracted by his ruminations. He couldn't make out much of where he was; he managed to make out some oddly-shaped stones before Hart was moving them along once more.
"Where are we?" he grated.
"There used to be a great city here," Hart answered absently. "Now it's just ruins."
Oh lovely. Was the mercenary going to leave him in this place?
But there was something else. Something that nibbled at the edges of Ianto's consciousness, and he couldn't identify it.
He might have noticed it sooner, if he hadn't been lost in his own thoughts. As it was, the feeling was very faint, and seemed to twitch at the back of his head like an insect had somehow landed in his hair and was irritating him. Ianto dismissed it at first, thinking it was just from hanging head-down over a saddle all day.
But the feeling got stronger the farther they went.
Then his fingers began to tingle.
In that moment, Ianto realized he was actually sensing something magical.
He raised his head, attempting to make out his surroundings. He could see large stones that couldn't have naturally been made in the shape they were in, hidden under long grass. "What is this place?" he asked. He had to know.
At first, he didn't think Hart was going to answer. "It was called Gateway. At least that's what I've been told. Been destroyed for centuries now. No one knows how it happened."
The Gateway to the Living Lands…
Ianto shivered. Could this be it? The place in the scroll, where the Demons of the North had come, only to be stopped by the Great Wizard?
He hadn't realized they were so close, if this was the place. He should have, though. He knew the scroll, knew what to look for. Knew the distances and directions as if they were written on the back of his hand.
And it had to be. Ianto could feel the magic that had once been let loose, clinging to the stones like lichen. It was triggering his own magical sense, even though he couldn't touch. It must have been unimaginable, the power that had been released there. Enough to totally destroy the Demons and their Emperor God.
It was true. The scroll was completely true.
His Gran's story had been true.
The Deathless was real. If the magic of Gateway was, then so that part of the tale must be as well.
The itch was getting stronger. Ianto tried his damnedest to keep it under control, not wanting Hart to notice anything amiss. The last thing he wanted was for the man to realize his hostage was something more than just Torchwood's Master Archivist.
Perhaps he could try to use it, to get himself free? It was worth a try, he really didn't have anything to lose. But he couldn't let Hart know he was up to something.
And so, Ianto closed his eyes, concentrating on what he was feeling around him. That the magic had remained after a thousand years was a testimony of its strength. The scroll had referred to it as the Deep Ways, and although Ianto hadn't really come across that term in the Archives until that tale, he instinctively knew it was something beyond normal magic.
His fingers were burning. The itching in his head had grown almost unbearable. The magic was trying to escape.
Ianto let it.
And his hands were suddenly free.
Ianto slid off the saddle, landing on his arse in the tall grass. He was nearly trampled by the rear hooves of Hart's horse, before the mercenary knew that Ianto was no longer slung across the second animal.
With a touch of his fingers, the rope around his ankles snapped. Ianto tried to rise, but he'd been trussed up too long, and his legs protested as did his abdomen. He watched as Hart stopped, and the man climbed from the back of his horse. He started toward Ianto, not even bothering to put his hand to his sword. He apparently discounted the young man as any sort of threat.
Ianto proceeded to prove him wrong.
"What the hells?" Hart gasped, as soon as he got a look at his former prisoner. He took a step back, hand resting on the hilt of his curved sword.
"You really thought you could hold me?" Ianto demanded. His voice sounded strange to his own ears, almost as if there were two sets of vocal cords at work. He managed to climb to his feet, pinning Hart with his eyes.
"Gods, Adam was right," the man said, taking another step back. "You're a fucking mage…"
And Ianto laughed.
The farther they rode, the more convinced Jack came of their eventual destination.
The one place Jack had avoided in all his extremely long life.
The place where he'd been made Deathless.
Even though his memories had faded over the centuries, Jack still remembered that very first death vividly. Surrounded by the Nameless Demons, armed only with a sword and shield, and being overwhelmed; then the pain and darkness. He'd awoke covered in the strangest dust – which he'd later come to realize was the remains of the Demons – and the screeching of Master John's familiar in his ears. Jack had tried to find the Wizard, but he'd been too late. He'd only managed to catch a glimpse of golden fire, and then nothing. It hadn't been until much later that he'd found out what had happened, about Lady Rose, the Deep Ways, and the destruction of the Demons.
And, of course, his own Deathlessness.
He'd never been back. He couldn't. Going back to Gateway brought back the feelings of abandonment and pain that Jack had done his damnedest to suppress. Even after over a thousand years, those feelings were still sharp, like a knife thrust to the heart. He'd stayed in Gateway for a short while, after the battle, hoping they'd come back for him; but of course, they hadn't. He'd been left to discover his curse on his own.
Jack had never really forgiven them for that. And he'd avoided Gateway from the moment he'd left…until today.
He knew the history of it, however. How the city had flourished only another century until it began to decline. It had sunk into ruin fairly quickly, the truth of its magnificence only in stories to entertain. Like the many myths of the Deathless, really.
Now, Jack was having to go back. Yes, it was necessary, but that didn't make the dread any less.
His concern – no, more like fear really – for Ianto made his dread seem pretty irrelevant. It was only the archivist that would make Jack return to that scene of his changing. The captain had known that they'd pass nearby; from Ianto's directions the ruins of the keep they were looking for was several days' travel north of the once-great city. Jack had planned on by-passing Gateway completely. But now, he was being forced to go there, by whoever'd taken Ianto.
He'd go. For Ianto.
The others were beginning to pick up on his nervousness. Toshiko kept looking at him sideways, a strangely knowing expression on her face. Suzie asked him several times what was wrong, to which Jack answered in the negative. And Owen just muttered to himself, too low to be overheard clearly. A part of Jack wanted to come clean about it, but there was too much water under the bridge now. Telling his team about everything…it was too late. He couldn't do it.
He was barely able to think about how he was going to explain to Ianto, because he knew the younger man had seen him die.
The first stones of Gateway were obscured, barely visible in the tall grass. But Jack knew they were there, could feel the old memories and death around them as they traveled. His heart pounded harder and he felt the slight edge of panic flutter around in his head. No, keep it together…
The ruins were becoming more noticeable. Jack could remember how the city had once been: spires and towers against the blue of the sky, white marble and red brick and green alabastrite glittering among the glowing tones of wood and shining glass. The chattering of people and the laughter of children.
No, he didn't want these memories back. They were too strong, too painful to bear.
But he had to, and so Jack guided his horse forward, into the ruins, following the direction the compass was showing him.
Ianto had to be his priority. He could handle this, if Ianto was saved.
They'd been riding for a while, when suddenly the compass began to get hot.
Jack tried to hold onto it, as the metal burned the palm of his hand. Grinding his teeth, the mercenary kept his eyes on the needle, confused as to why the thing was reacting the way it was. This had never happened before, in the few times he'd used the magical tracer, and Jack couldn't figure out what was wrong.
Finally, he hissed and dropped the compass, he had no choice. It was so hot it felt like it was burning its way through his hand. It didn't even hit the ground before the small device completely disintegrated in a shower of sparks. His horse shied from the heat, forcing Jack to get the animal back under control.
"What the hell - ?" Suzie demanded, as Jack's horse twisted into hers.
"I don't think that was supposed to happen," Toshiko added, as her eyes strayed to the place where the compass had destroyed itself.
"No, it wasn't," Jack confirmed. He resisted the urge to run his hand through his hair in frustration. How were they going to track Ianto now?
"So, how are we gonna find the coffee boy now?" Owen asked, unconsciously echoing Jack's thoughts, without the obvious put-down.
"We know the general direction," Jack answered. "It hadn't really deviated much since we've been following the tracker. If we just keep going the same way – "
"And they don't change course," Suzie butted in.
"– then we should run into them," Jack finished, ignoring his weapons' expert. He kicked his horse into a cantor, picking up speed.
The others followed. They had to be a bit more careful, as more of the ruins were exposed through the grass and other plants. Jack didn't want to risk injuring their mounts, but at the same time that panic he kept pushing down was gaining more of a foothold on his mind. There was no telling what they'd wanted Ianto for, or even who'd taken him. They could be doing anything to the archivist, and there wasn't a thing Jack could do about it. As long as he'd been certain the kidnappers had been moving Jack could think that nothing was going on, that they hadn't stopped and done something to Ianto. But now, he couldn't even tell that. They were traveling blind, with no way of knowing where whoever they were, were taking the archivist.
He couldn't give into to it. They had to keep going, hoping to catch up. Jack couldn't think about what might be happening. He had to concentrate on the here and now.
It seemed to be forever – but was actually not all that long – that Jack spotted someone ahead, apparently seated on one of the overturned stones.
It was Ianto, his back turned to the approaching riders.
Jack allowed himself to breathe a sigh of relief, but at the same time it was very strange to see the young man sitting there, on his own. The captain stopped his team, then dismounted.
"It can't be that simple," Suzie remarked.
"That's what I was thinking," Jack said. "Suzie, you take left; Owen the right. Tosh, keep a lookout here for anything strange. This could be some sort of trap."
"And I just bet you're gonna walk right into it," Owen snarked.
"Pretty much, yeah."
"You're a twat, Harkness. One of these days you're not gonna survive taking risks like that."
"But I'll go out in style," Jack smirked.
Owen simply rolled his eyes.
They fanned out, Toshiko staying with the horses and drawing her bow. Jack headed toward the seated Ianto, his eyes flicking back and forth, scanning for any danger. There was nothing he could see, only the grass waving in the lonely-sounding breeze.
"Ianto?" he called softly, once he was close enough.
At first, it was as if the archivist hadn't heard. Jack was going to call out again, when he finally did. "I should have known you'd be here, Jack."
The mercenary stopped at that response, confused by it. In his experience, people who'd thought he'd died usually reacted quite differently. "Of course I'm here," he said, beginning to move closer.
"Yes," Ianto answered. There was something in his voice, something off, and Jack couldn't place it. "You'd be here, among the ghosts…I can see them all, Jack. They're going about their normal lives, as if they were still living…"
Jack was suddenly frightened. He circled the stone, until he was facing Ianto. And then he knew why the man was reacting so strangely.
Ianto's eyes had changed, back into the black and gold eclipses that Jack had seen in Haven.
"It was so beautiful," he went on, not seeming to see Jack standing there. "We've lost so much…so much knowledge, so much magic. This place was amazing, Jack. So much power and prestige and wonder…Gods, so beautiful…"
It was chilling, hearing him speak like that. Jack shivered, not liking to see Ianto in the thrall of the Deep Ways. "You need to come back now, Ianto," he murmured. "You need to leave the past, in the past."
"I can't. Seeing Gateway as it was…all those centuries ago…" Then, he looked up at Jack, his brows furrowing. "You're not a ghost…"
Jack felt a hand on his wrist, the strong grip pulling him down to kneel in front of Ianto. That contact made the captain's skin tingle. Those eyes focused on him, as if trying to read his mind…or his soul.
"You were here," Ianto whispered. "I can see you; standing against the demons who raged through the streets. They killed you…"
This wasn't happening. Jack wanted to break away, but the strength of that grip wouldn't let him. Ianto was somehow reading him, reading the events of a millennium ago. "How can you see that?"
"The magic," came the soft answer. "It's all around us; in the stones and the ground and the very air we're breathing. It's so strong, so dangerous…it's like touching ultimate power. I can feel it inside me, Jack. It's a living being, showing me things…unbelievable things. Wondrous things."
Jack wanted to shake him, to break him out of this trance. It was frightening him, to see the younger man so lost in the magic.
But he didn't dare. There was no telling what damage that would do. "You can't let it control you, Ianto."
The archivist's free hand came up, to touching Jack's face. That same tingling he'd felt before was back, as Ianto's fingers stroked over his cheekbone. "The first time I saw you like this, I thought you were an angel," Ianto whispered.
"What do you see?" Jack asked, just as softly.
"I see…the magic. Ancient, powerful, all-consuming….yet protective, loving…Deathless."
The last word was almost lost on the breeze, but Jack could make it out. He shuddered, breath catching in his throat. He hadn't known how to explain his survival to Ianto; but now, he didn't need to. Ianto was seeing it all, with his magical eyesight. There were no secrets, and Jack wanted to pull away, to hide; but at the same time his instinct was to share with this man everything, to let him see what was inside Jack and what was keeping him alive past his natural state.
Maybe Ianto had the answers Jack had given up on ever getting.
No. He couldn't risk the young man just to understand. "Ianto," he said quietly, yet sharply, to best get his words across, "you have to come back. No one's ever meant to have the Deep Magic inside them. Only a wizard can control that sort of energy. If you don't let it go, it'll burn you up. I don't want to lose you, Ianto. You have to let the power go."
"I can't. It's part of me now. It will always be a part of me." The golden circles around his blown pupils sparked, as if the sun was coming out from behind the moon. "The magic here opened me to all the possibilities."
Then he giggled, a sound that was so far removed from what Jack would have thought to hear from the usually reserved man that it chilled him to the bone. "He didn't know, of course. He didn't know bringing me here would do this to me. You should have seen it, Jack. He was so very shocked."
"Who was?" A part of Jack didn't want to know, but the question had to be asked. He wanted to know just who'd been behind Ianto's kidnapping and Jack's last death.
"John Hart. You would've loved to see his face when he found out."
The mercenary took ahold of Ianto's shoulder with his free hand, much more afraid than before. "What did you do?"
"I sent him away. I certainly hope he doesn't mind the cold…" Those eyes blinked. "I am sorry, Jack. I know he meant something to you."
"A long time ago, yes." Jack let out a breath. So, John had been behind it all. He wasn't sure whether to feel bad for the man, or to be glad that he was finally somewhere and out of Jack's hair. "But you have to listen to me, please. You have to release the magic. Let it go back to where it came from."
"You have to try. Try, for me…please, Ianto. You have to try." Jack was pleading, and he didn't care how it sounded. He thought back on what he'd found out about Rose, and how the Deep Ways had almost destroyed her. He didn't want to risk this young man, who'd come into his life and continually surprised him. He didn't want to lose him now.
Ianto's brow furrowed. "It's…hard, Jack."
"I know it's hard, but you have to do it. I need to see those beautiful blue eyes, Ianto. Come back to me."
And with that plea, Jack leaned forward and pressed his lips against Ianto's.
The younger man stiffened at first, but then began to return the kiss. He released Jack's wrist, and the mercenary put his arms around Ianto, pulling himself closer to the seated man. He felt Ianto's hands cupping his face, and Jack took that as permission to deepen the kiss.
Jack could feel the magic on his lips, sparkling like fine wine against his questing tongue. The power flowed between them, their mouths a conduit for the Deep Ways to pass between the two men. It was a heady sensation, one that Jack didn't want to end. And yet, it had to.
When he finally pulled away, Ianto's eyes had returned to normal.
"Welcome back," Jack murmured, smiling.
He knew everything about the city that had once stood on this very spot. He could see the former life of Gateway surrounding him, almost welcoming him in. It was the magic; this he also knew. The magic in the very stone he sat upon, waiting. It felt right, to sit there amid the ghosts of the past, watching them as they went about their business as if they were still living.
The magic was within him. Ianto could feel it, in his fingers, in his mind…and in his heart. Almost from the moment he'd let it in, back as he and John Hart had entered Gateway, he'd known this was right, that this was what he was meant to do.
That the Deep Ways had been waiting…waiting for someone like him.
He chuckled, remembering the look on Hart's face. It had been child's play to access the magic, and all Ianto had needed to do was to picture where he'd wanted to send him. He'd thought of somewhere cold, but that was the only thing that had come to mind. It had worked, and the man had vanished. Only a slight twinge of guilt niggled at him; Ianto suspected he wasn't totally in his right mind, or else he might have felt more remorse for what he'd done. Well, at least Hart was still alive.
His attention went back to what the magic was showing him. Everything seemed so…normal. It was so wonderful, seeing this great city in its heyday; the tall spires reaching up toward the sky, glittering in the sunlight. The knowledge that had been used to build such amazing structures was beyond current science, and nothing was constructed like them anymore. He mourned the loss, and they would never regain it unless they regained the magic that had been lost, as well.
Ianto had no idea how long he sat there, when another presence announced itself to him.
He'd been fooled, of course, into thinking that Jack was a ghost. But after acknowledging Jack's being there Ianto realized that the captain wasn't one of the dead of Gateway. That he'd somehow come for Ianto, even from death itself.
And then he could see it: the Demons, and Jack…and Jack's death among the corpses of his soldiers, the last man standing.
His heart clenched, hard. The Deep Magic was speaking to him, telling him Jack's secret even as Ianto didn't want to truly believe it.
Jack was the Deathless. The one cursed with immortality, to live until the very Multiverse ended.
Gods, no…he didn't want to know this. In his life Ianto had searched for knowledge, but this was too much. He wanted to mourn for this man he'd grown to care for, but the magic wouldn't let him go, and it didn't matter how hard Jack tried to talk him away from it. The magic was a part of him, now. There was no escaping it.
It was almost like a truth drug; whatever Jack asked, Ianto answered. He could tell that the captain was upset in Ianto's knowing his secret, about the Deathless, but he couldn't have kept that to himself no matter how hard he tried. Just as hard as it was to let it go, to put the magic aside and return to his normal – powerless – self.
But it was the kiss that made it easier.
Ianto hadn't expected it. Hadn't even considered that it might happen. But once Jack's lips were on his there was no going back. He could feel the Immortality magic on Jack's tongue, entwining with the very power that had done this to him, the power within Ianto himself. A part of Ianto wanted to weep with it, that Jack was stuck this way.
What would have been a distraction for some, actually grounded Ianto back into the real world. The Deep Magic flowed between them like a swift stream, and that sensation also aided in Ianto's being able to pull away from the ancient power rooted within the eroded stones of Gateway. By the time they broke apart, the magic had subsided to just that strange itch at the back of his skull once more.
"Welcome back," Jack greeted, smiling.
"Good to be back," Ianto answered, returning the smile. It was good to see the captain fully, without the obscuring golden glow that had surrounded him when the archivist had been under the demands of the Deep Ways.
"How do you feel?"
Ianto shook his head. "I'm not sure….can I get back to you about that?"
Jack nodded, although he didn't move from his kneeling position in front of the younger man. Ianto was keenly aware of the immortal's arms around him; Ianto's own rested on Jack's shoulders, and he pulled them back, blushing.
Ianto wasn't sure how to handle what he'd learned. A part of him was accepting of Jack's magical state; yet the bigger part didn't honestly know what to think. He could understand why Jack hadn't mentioned it, when this mission had been dumped in the mercenary's lap. It must have been so hard, knowing that the very story that your life had become was the basis for this search?
Jack sighed, also pulling away to sit back on his heels. He regarded Ianto closely, as if trying to read his thoughts. "Are you okay?" he murmured.
Ianto didn't get a chance to reply.
"Oi, you two!" came Owen's shout. Ianto turned his head; the battle surgeon was striding toward them, sheathing his sword. "Sure, have us walk the perimeter of the place just so the pair of you could snog each other? I've said it before and I'll say it again: you're a twat, Harkness."
The archivist looked around, spotting Suzie coming in from the opposite direction as Owen. Toshiko walked toward them from a different direction entirely, sliding an arrow into the quiver at her waist as she slung her bow across her shoulder.
"There's no one around, Jack," Suzie added, shaking her head amusedly.
"There wouldn't be," Jack answered. "Seems they couldn't get what they wanted from Ianto, so they dumped him here."
Jack was covering for him. Was giving him a cover story so he wouldn't have to explain the magic. It was in that moment that Ianto figured out that they were more alike than he would have guessed; Jack hiding his Deathlessness – not that Ianto could blame him, how do you even begin to talk about something like that? – and Ianto keeping his own abilities secret. But whereas Jack had good reason, the only thing Ianto could say to defend himself was that he was so used to keeping them hidden that it was almost second nature to him.
Ianto found himself actually considering telling the truth. Letting everything out in the open. Just being completely honest with these people. But, in the end, he couldn't.
He really wanted to talk to Jack first.
Before he even had the chance to say anything, Owen interrupted. "Yeah well…what would anyone what you for? Someone find out about your coffee skills and want to corner the market?"
"Yeah," Ianto answered acerbically, "because we know that's the only thing I'm truly good at."
"But what did they want you for, Ianto?" Toshiko asked, cutting across the enmity that had come up between the surgeon and the archivist.
Ianto swallowed. He was very aware that Jack hadn't said anything about the attack in Haven to his people, but without that piece of information what he was about to say wouldn't make much sense. He said it anyway. "They wanted me to take them to the Artifacts we're searching for."
The three glanced at each other; Jack kept his gaze on Ianto, and he was beginning to feel the urge to fidget under those blue eyes. "How'd they know about the mission?" Suzie demanded. "I thought this was supposed to be some sort of secret or something."
"It was," he admitted. "But…something happened in Haven. I was attacked, by someone who got into my mind."
"What the hell?" Owen exclaimed. "And we were gonna find out about this when?"
"Was it Adam Smith?" Suzie interjected.
Jack raised an eyebrow at that. "And how do you know Adam Smith?"
She shrugged. "Knew someone who used him once. His power is pretty impressive."
Something flickered in her dark eyes, and Ianto frowned. He got the feeling that there was more to the story, but he really didn't have the right to ask.
"Then it's true?" Toshiko asked, wondering. "That Smith is a magic-user?"
Ianto nodded. "He certainly used it on me. It got him exactly what he wanted." And more, he didn't add.
"I ask again: when were we gonna be told about this?" Owen demanded.
Jack shrugged, slowly getting to his feet. "I was really hoping I could handle anything that came up, myself."
"That worked out well, didn't it?"
"It wasn't just Jack's decision," Ianto defended. "Personally, I don't like to admit that I was mind-raped by someone. Would you, Owen?"
The battle surgeon grumbled, but didn't answer.
"But you're all right?" Toshiko asked worriedly.
The archivist smiled slightly. "I'm fine, Tosh. Honestly." And he was. As bothered as he'd been by Adam's attack on him, knowing that it somehow broke through whatever had been blocking his access to the Deep Ways made it somewhat better.
This trip was teaching him so many things about himself it would take months to work through it all.
Jack got them moving quickly, for which Ianto was very grateful.
The others kept peppering him with questions; questions that the young man didn't really want to answer. He let himself fall back into his own thoughts, and eventually they all backed off and left him alone.
Except for Jack.
Even though he didn't actually say anything, Ianto could feel the captain's eyes on him as they rode. Ianto had so much to consider when it came to the mercenary; he'd learned so much it was hard to put it all into some sort of perspective. That Jack was what the myths would call the Deathless was just one of the issues he was having.
He wasn't sure how he really felt about it. Ianto was sincerely glad that Jack hadn't been permanently killed; he'd have missed the captain terribly, and had been so very angry at John Hart for shooting him. Ianto was, in matter of fact, surprised he hadn't used the magic to hurt his kidnapper more than just sending him off somewhere, but he'd meant it when he'd apologized to Jack for doing it.
But how does one actually react to a man who was immortal?
Ianto rubbed his eyes tiredly. He let his horse go its own way, and the animal was content to stay with the group as they rode through the ruins. He could still feel the magic around him, but it no longer controlled him; it lay quiescent in the back of his mind, waiting for him to call to it. If he blinked just the right way, he could make out the golden glow that radiated from Jack's body, and it warmed Ianto as if he were basking in the summer sun.
He'd long wondered if it was the magic that had attracted him to Jack, or if this was something within himself that had suddenly decided that it liked men more than he'd done previously. Now, having "seen" Jack's true self, Ianto could honestly say that it wasn't the magic. That this was something beyond that, although the Deep Ways did call to him like a siren song. But it wasn't what drew him to the man. The magic was simply incidental, and added to the allure.
But Ianto still didn't know how to act in regards to Jack's immortality.
Accepting it was probably the easiest answer, but wouldn't be the easiest to accomplish. Ianto considered himself fairly open-minded, but this wasn't something that came up every day. He glanced toward the mercenary, catching Jack's eyes on him once more. He nodded, acknowledging Jack's gaze. The captain nodded once, then his attention went back to the trail once more.
It was nearly sundown by the time they'd cleared the ruins. They rode a bit farther, until Suzie called them to a halt at a decent campsite. It didn't take long to set up and get a fire started, every one of them having tasks that were becoming very well rehearsed by then. Ianto made them all coffee, as he was wont to do, and then helped with getting the evening meal ready. His hands worked on their own, his mind still consumed with its own thoughts.
He forewent the sword lesson; Ianto just wasn't in the mood, and Suzie didn't argue about it. Instead, he sat back on his bedroll, watching the others as they readied themselves for sleep. Only Jack didn't seem that interested in going to bed; once everyone was settled, the mercenary left the camp, his eyes meeting Ianto's over the fire.
As if drawn along by those eyes, Ianto got up and followed Jack, making his way through the tall grass toward the darker shadow that was the mercenary's body as he moved farther from the friendly firelight of the camp.
Eventually, Jack stopped. He stood against the stars, his cloak billowing out around him as he stood there.
Waiting for Ianto.
The archivist joined him, standing at Jack's shoulder but with a little distance between them. A part of Ianto wanted to lean closer, to give the other man some form of comfort, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. And so, he simply waited for Jack to speak.
It seemed an eternity, but Jack finally said, "I'm sorry you had to find out that way."
"It's fine. Don't worry about it."
"But I do." Jack sighed. "I would hate to think I've somehow lost your good opinion of me, Ianto."
"No chance of that…sir."
The captain snorted. "I thought we were beyond that."
"Just trying to lighten the mood."
"Thanks for trying, it's appreciated."
"You're welcome." Ianto paused. "Jack, it really is fine. I'm…not quite sure how to react about it yet, but I think I've pretty well accepted it."
"The others who've found out about me have pretty much been the opposite. I doubt anyone's truly accepted my…Deathlessness."
"Is that why you haven't told your team?"
"Pretty much, yeah. I also don't like people looking at me like I'm some sort of freak."
"I don't think you're a freak, Jack."
"What do you think I am then, Ianto?"
The archivist sighed. "I think you're a man who's trying to deal with his circumstances as best he can. At least, that's what I see."
"What else do you see?"
"You have a habit of asking me that question."
"You're a very discerning person. I value what you have to say."
Warmth spread through Ianto's chest at the compliment. "The magic let me see it all…the Demons, your death…and what happened next. I'm not sure I understand it all yet, but it matches what the scroll said occurred." He turned to look at Jack; his profile limned against the stars, his eyes too shadowed to make out their expression. "You were brought back out of love, Jack. And that can never be a bad thing."
"There are so many things I don't remember – hells, I've forgotten more than most people will ever know in their lifetimes – but I do remember that day." Jack's voice was so quiet; Ianto had to strain to hear him. "It all seemed so hopeless…that no matter what we did, it was going to end badly. Master John only had the one option, and we all knew we were going to die. I backed him, of course. I had no choice. The Nameless couldn't be allowed to go any further. Every one of us knew that stopping them would mean we'd all be giving our lives. I'd never been more terrified in my life, but I went to the front lines anyway."
Ianto shivered. He'd been shown, but to hear the naked pain and fear in Jack's voice made it completely real. Instinctively he reached across the space between them and took Jack's hand, his fingers tingling at the contact.
Jack acknowledged the offered comfort, squeezing back softly. "Gods, it's been so long since I've talked about this," he admitted. "The only reason I am now, is because you actually saw it…and to be honest I'm still not sure how you did…"
"The Deep Ways," Ianto answered. "They've been waiting a long time for someone to come along and be able to hear what they had to say."
"You make it sound like it's alive."
"They are, in a way. It's really hard to explain, and it's something I'm still working out for myself, but the Deep Ways are far more than just ancient magic. They've been around since the building of the Multiverse, and will be around after everything has turned to dust. And something that old has to be aware, in some way." He could still feel the magic, at the back of his mind; this time it didn't fade, as it had in Haven. "I really want to do more research when we get back to the Castle. There isn't a lot on the Deep Ways that I've found as yet but I definitely need to know what I'm dealing with."
"Might be a good idea. Wouldn't want anything to happen to you."
"I'll try to be careful," Ianto answered drily.
"I should hope you do." Jack's voice was deadly serious, cutting across Ianto's attempt at playfulness like a hot knife through butter. "You're important, Ianto."
That comment did something to the archivist's heart that he was surprised at. It was a painful sensation, yet pleasant at the same time. "Yep, being the only magic-user in Cardiff makes that pretty much inevitable." He hadn't meant for the words to come out harshly, but they did.
Jack's eyes met his. "That isn't what I meant." He stepped back, releasing their hands. "Look, let's get back to camp. We both need to get some rest."
He turned back toward the glowing campfire some distance away.
The mercenary looked back. "Ianto?"
The younger man wanted to say something else, mention the kiss that had happened between them back in the ruins. Wanted to know if it had meant something besides being a way to ground Ianto back in the real world.
Wanted to know if it would ever happen again.
But the words wouldn't come. He really didn't know what to say, that would bring the subject up.
Jack simply stood there, waiting for him to speak.
"Never mind," he finally said, stepping to Jack's side. "You're right, we should be getting back."
Another two days of riding found them at the place that Ianto's scrolls claimed was the place that the other Great Wizard had lived, and where he'd hidden the Gauntlet and Dagger.
Their destination had once been a fortified tower, but time and weather had been very unkind to the worn, once-white stone. Now, it more resembled a splintered bone, shards pointing toward the sky as if trying to stab the clouds. Wasted and stunted trees encircled the base of the tower, whispering in the wind that had kicked up earlier in the day.
The sight made Jack shiver involuntarily. He couldn't have said why, but it did. The whole tableau was simply disturbing.
Ianto sat on his horse just beside him, the magical glasses obscuring his eyes and the scroll held in both hands. He looked…well, Jack could think of all sorts of adjectives to describe how good the archivist looked, and all of them felt quite right. And that was really the problem…that he could do so in so many different ways.
"This place gives me the creeps," Owen groused.
Jack turned to look at him; he was with Suzie, who didn't look any less spooked than Owen – or Jack, for that matter – did. Toshiko, who rode at the back and was leading the pack animal at that moment, was staring at the ruin with her mouth partially open; Jack was tempted to tell her to close it before she caught some sort of insect in there, but didn't feel much like joking. The whole atmosphere was oppressive, and not conducive to kidding around.
He looked once more at Ianto, and for a heartbeat he thought the younger man was completely unaffected by what the others were feeling. But then Jack saw that his hands were shaking slightly, and the blue eyes under the magical lenses kept darting toward the structure as if he weren't sure it would still be there if he looked away.
Yes, they were all on edge. And that broken tower was the cause.
Jack wanted to lean over and ask Ianto if he was getting anything magical from the place, but didn't dare. For one thing, what had happened at Gateway hadn't been discussed with the rest of the team; Gods, they themselves hadn't spoken of it, not since that night. Jack had felt vulnerable, had talked of things that he'd never dreamed of saying to another person. He'd been surprised at Ianto's apparently casual acceptance of Jack's Deathlessness, which had fueled his need to share. To find someone who could actually accept him for who he was…that was something the mercenary had never even dreamed of.
It was a revelation. It made him want to treasure the younger man riding beside him, to confess all his secrets and to protect him against all evils. Jack hadn't felt this strongly in…well, he really couldn't remember when. He'd grown so used to keeping his own council and moving on when it became impossible for him to stay in one place for too long, out of fear that he'd be discovered.
Jack shook himself. Just because one person knew and accepted didn't mean his vagabond life was over. He'd have to leave again some day, and that meant he still really couldn't get that attached. This was why he really didn't get that close to people; the physical part was fine, but Jack just didn't do emotional connections. He'd learned a long time ago that those led to heartbreak, and while the captain was well able to handle physical pain, he was quite soft when it came to his feelings.
"You all right?"
He started, turning toward Ianto. The archivist had his glasses perched on top of his head, his sharp eyes regarding Jack closely.
Jack just stared at him for a few moments. "It's that damned tower," he finally answered. "I feel almost like it's watching me."
The archivist nodded. "There's something about it. I can't…put my finger on it. Perhaps when we get closer?"
"I don't think I want to get closer," Suzie's voice butted in.
"Yeah, well," Owen snarked, "we're gonna have to, aren't we? If we wanna get paid. Of course, if you'd all just went along with me in the beginning when I said we should just travel about a bit, then claim we couldn't find anything…"
"Couldn't get away with that, even before Ianto joined the team," Toshiko said, rolling her eyes.
"And it was never an option anyway," Jack snapped. "We do the job we're paid to do."
With those words, he prodded his horse on. It didn't get any better the nearer they got; in fact, the foreboding grew worse until even the animals were feeling it. Jack's mount, who'd been trained to ignore most blood and violence, shied away from the structure, and he finally called a halt within walking distance of their destination.
They set up camp, but it wasn't the concerted effort that it had become between them. Ianto was silent, carrying out his duties without comment; Owen was pissed off, and tried to goad the others into arguments, and Suzie was more than willing to oblige him until the site was filled with angry voices and Jack had to growl at them to shut the fuck up, which spoke of the strain he was feeling; and Toshiko, who would stop in the middle of tasks, mumble something, then continue on with what she'd been doing.
He made the decision that they wouldn't explore the ruin until the morning, and there was no dissention over that. Jack didn't want them to get trapped in there when it started to get dark, even though they had at least a couple of hours before nightfall. A part of Jack was telling him that he just wanted to put it off as long as he could, and even as he quashed that voice down he realized it was correct.
Dinner turned quiet, and Jack didn't even feel like regaling them with his usual stories. The entire atmosphere was strained, and it could all be blamed on the tower that loomed before them. The captain wondered if there was some sort of spell on the thing, and he really wanted to ask Ianto his opinion about it, but the archivist was withdrawn and wouldn't meet his gaze across the fire.
Despite how they were feeling, the team eventually began dropping off to sleep. Jack stayed awake – he didn't really need all that much, but had become quite good at faking it – and kept watch, uneasy about leaving the camp unguarded. The fire threw sparks up into the air, the wood popping and breaking the smothering silence. He closed his eyes, letting his other senses take over as he lay on his bedroll.
Jack didn't know how much time had passed, but his eyes shuttered open as a rustling sound reached his ears. It took him a moment to get used to the firelight, but he was soon able to make out a shadow across the stones of the pit, moving past a sleeping Toshiko and heading out of camp.
He rose to follow, gathering up his sword and resting his cloak about his shoulders.
The bulk of the ruined tower blocked out the starlight; the moon was only a crescent, so it didn't let out much illumination. But Jack could see the shadow heading toward the structure, and the captain crept behind it, knowing by the movement just who it was.
Jack was irritated. They'd all agreed to explore the tower in the day; and now, Ianto was sneaking off to do a little exploration on his own. Didn't the archivist know how dangerous it was, sneaking off like that and no one knowing where he'd gone?
He tried to convince himself that his personal feeling didn't enter into it, but was pretty sure it wasn't working.
The archivist made it to the tower, and began to circle it. A light suddenly flared on, pinpointing the younger man's location even though Jack knew exactly where he was. In the glow the captain could see Ianto examining the walls of the structure, running his hand along the stone, and he wondered if he was trying to use his magic on it, to get a clue about what they were facing.
Jack didn't want to startle Ianto, so he approached straight at him. As he got closer he could make out a strange globe in the archivist's hand, and it was from this that the light was emanating. He actually recognized it, having seen several in his travels. He wondered where Torchwood Castle had managed to get one.
Ianto's head snapped up from his perusal of the tower, lowering the light globe a little in order to make out who was approaching him. "Jack?" he murmured.
"Can I ask what the hells you think you're doing?" Jack kept his voice low, but the anger in it was obvious. "It's dangerous for you to be out here on your own like this."
He had the sense to look abashed. "I'm sorry, but there's something bothering me about this place. I just couldn't stay away."
"You should have told me you were leaving." The captain got closer, almost into Ianto's personal space. "I would've come with you, instead of following you. At least you came armed." He motioned toward the sword at the archivist's waist.
At that, Ianto rolled his eyes. "I might be obsessed with this place, but I'm not that stupid."
"The jury might still be out on that."
The moment the words left Jack's mouth, he knew he'd put his foot in it. Ianto's eyes narrowed, and he glared at him across the globe he held. "I know how to handle magic," he snapped. "I respect it, and I can deal with it."
Jack took a step back, his hands raised in surrender. "I'm not gonna fight with you, Ianto. I'm just…concerned for your safety, that's all."
Ianto took a deep breath, calming himself. "And I'm sorry I didn't tell you. But you were sleeping and I didn't want to disturb you."
"I really don't sleep all that much, to be honest. I haven't had to, not since becoming immortal." Jack turned to the tower wall. It was covered in vines and lichen after so many years of being abandoned. "What do you see?"
Ianto smirked. "That must be your favorite thing to ask me. Is this some new sort of pick-up line that I've been completely unaware of?"
"I don't know…is it working?" The mercenary leered, falling naturally back onto flirtation.
"Not…entirely." In the light of the globe, Ianto was actually blushing. "But, to answer your question…there's definitely magic involved here, but it's very old, and many of the spells are just whispers of their former selves." He sighed. "There's Protection, and Warding, and Perception spells here."
"Would that cause the ominous feeling we've all bee having?"
"No." Ianto raised his hand back to the stone. "They're way too weak to do anything, anymore. There's definitely some sort of geas on the stone, and it's evading my touch." He paused. "Could your Wizard friend have had something to do with it?"
Jack considered the question. "No. Master John lived in Gateway…well, until he left, that is." He couldn't keep the hurt out of his voice, and Ianto glanced at him, concern in his blue eyes. "I'm more inclined to think your scroll is right: that this place was built by that Wizard that wanted to destroy me."
The younger man nodded. "Yes, I agree with you. Whoever it was, I don't think they were exactly on the sides of the Angels. After all, he wanted to kill you. I don't see that as something a good person would want to do."
Jack's heart swelled. "Thank you for saying that."
"I'm only being honest. You're a decent man, Jack. Just because someone tried to do the right thing and save you, there's no reason to condemn you for what she made you. Nothing done out of love is bad."
"You are a remarkably romantic man, Ianto Jones." Jack's voice cracked with emotion.
"You're the only person to think that, Jack." Ianto smiled softly at him.
"It's just because they haven't seen this side of you."
"If you say so." Ianto sighed, then turned back to the tower. "Whoever built this, twisted some sort of magic into the very stone itself. I'd think it would take someone extremely powerful to do that."
Jack put his mind back on the problem at hand, and shoved the upwelling of feeling he suddenly had toward the young man beside him back down where it belonged. Time and a place, Harkness…
"So, you think we're in the right place then." It wasn't a question.
"Undoubtedly. If the Gauntlet and Dagger exist…they're here. Unless, of course, someone beat us to them."
"Let's hope not."
The captain regarded his companion even more closely than before. There was a pensive look on the archivist's face. "What?"
"If the Artifacts are here…would you use them?" Ianto's voice was completely neutral, but his eyes were troubled. "Would you end your life?"
"I…" Jack was silent, not sure how to answer that in a way that didn't expose himself to pity.
He must have been quiet for too long, because Ianto lowered his gaze and went back to looking at the tower. The archivist cleared his throat. "Well…maybe you're right, we should wait til morning to look around anymore." He turned away.
"Ianto." Jack grabbed his arm lightly, just enough to stop the man from leaving.
"It's fine, Jack. Let's go back to camp." He shook off the grip, moving away from the mercenary.
Jack made to follow, needing to explain. As he went to touch the young man once more, the ground seemed to shift a little under his boot. Another step, and it shifted even more.
"Ianto!" he called out, as the earth dropped out from underneath him.
And then Jack was in freefall.
He heard a voice cry out, recognizing it as Ianto's. Fear stabbed him; not at his fate, but at the archivist's. Jack managed to reach out and grab ahold of his companion, and twist so that Jack himself would land first, cushioning the other man's fall.
Pain arched through him as he collided with hard ground, and darkness descended.
One moment, Ianto was walking away from Jack, bitterly disappointed at the lack of answer – although, to him, that lack was as clear as anything the mercenary could have said – and the next, his foot was sinking into unsteady ground and Jack was shouting at him.
Ianto cried out as the earth beneath him disappeared, and he plunged into darkness. Rough hands grabbed him, and the archivist found himself clutched tightly against what had to be Jack's chest. Terror jabbered at his mind even as he felt safe in those arms, but that ended as a sharp impact blasted the air from his lungs and fireworks exploded across his vision.
He had no idea how long he lay there; only that it was pitch black, except for a faint light that seemed to emanate somewhere from beyond where he was sprawled. There was a strange firmness under him, and to his stunned mind it didn't feel like the ground.
With a cry, Ianto rolled away, realizing he was lying on top of Jack.
He couldn't see. He'd lost the light globe in the fall; that was what was shining, where it had hit the ground and bounced away. Ianto scrambled to his feet, retrieving the magical globe and the pack that had been looped over his shoulder, then used the device to have a look at Jack.
He was obviously dead. No one could survive with their neck twisted that way.
Panic rose, as Ianto fell to his knees next to the mercenary. In the logical part of his mind he knew that Jack was Deathless, that this would be temporary, but at the same time seeing this was so very different from knowing. He reached out a shaking hand and touched Jack's cheek; he was already growing cold. The skin was waxy and felt unnatural, and there wasn't the usual tingling that Ianto experienced when he touched the captain's skin.
He wanted to use the magic within himself, to see what the Deep Ways did to return Jack from the dead, but suddenly didn't dare. Ianto didn't want to know. He didn't want to see. Because there was another, smaller voice telling him that Jack was dead, that he couldn't come back, and that Ianto was alone in the dark in a place he didn't know anything about.
It was like a live thing, the blackness that pressed against the circle of light from the globe in his other hand. Ianto wasn't one to be afraid of the dark, but the same atmosphere that had plagued them as they'd approached the tower was worse there, underground. There was a strange, whimpering noise and it took the archivist a moment to realize it had come from him.
Get a grip on yourself! There's nothing here that's going to hurt you!
He kept telling himself that. That it was just some sort of Perception magic, that someone had cast this spell to frighten away unwanted visitors. That he was Master Ianto Jones, Head Archivist and Catalyst, and that he had absolutely nothing to fear.
But kneeling there, beside the dead body of the man he…well, the man he was seriously attracted to made the effects of the magic even worse. Ianto wanted to scramble away, to find the nearest wall and to put his back against it, to give himself that safety that a solid object could give. His heart beat rapidly against his breastbone, and he began to pray to Gods he really didn't have all that much faith in to bring Jack back, because he was afraid of the dark…
And, as he did so, a sudden loud gasp for air snapped his attention down to the man lying beside him. Blue eyes flew open, surprise and not a little fear in their depths as Jack sat up, a hand reaching out to grip Ianto's forearm roughly. And was it his imagination, or were their golden flecks in those eyes?
Ianto squeaked in shock, and would be mortified later that that particular sound had come from him. But in that moment he was just so very glad to know that Jack's Deathlessness had brought him back, and that he wasn't alone anymore.
A horrible cracking and popping noise echoed around them as Jack moved his head; Ianto realized it was the mercenary's vertebrae shifting back into position. He shivered, never wanting to hear it again. "Ianto?" Jack asked hoarsely, his eyes wide as they stared into Ianto's own. His face was pale, but seemed to be regaining its usual color. "Are you okay?"
Ianto had to fight back the hysterical laughter that threatened to overwhelm him. "I should be asking you that question," he answered breathlessly.
"I'm always okay," Jack said, shrugging. He actually seemed a bit embarrassed by that. "You weren't hurt, were you?"
"No, just had the wind knocked out of me. You…make a nice cushion."
Jack barked out a laugh at that, although his eyes were still examining Ianto closely. "Glad you think so. At least I wasn't wearing my armor. That would've been uncomfortable." He released Ianto's arm, then staggered to his feet. "Where the hells are we?"
Ianto stood as well, holding the light globe up and using his magic to make it glow brighter. The light showed them a tall room, rounded like the tower above it, made up of blocks of the same stone. There used to be furniture there, but all of it was in a catastrophic state of disrepair. Surprisingly though, there was very little dust; whatever Preservation magic that still existed had obviously hindered its deposit.
"Some sort of bedroom," Ianto guessed.
"Yeah. We need to find a way out of here; the roof doesn't look too sturdy."
Ianto glanced up; the stones that made up the ceiling were dislodged by roots and what looked like grass stalks. He could see the stars through the hole they'd fallen through. "No wonder it collapsed under us."
"I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did," Jack commented.
"Thank Gods we didn't get hit by one of the falling stones."
"You're not kidding. Come on; let's get out of here."
They moved together, and Ianto was very glad to have Jack with him. He'd been a bit irritated when the captain had followed him from camp; but now, he was thankful for the company. The solid presence of the mercenary helped Ianto fight off the demons dragged up by the magic of the place, and it grounded him.
They made a circuit of the room, searching for a way out. It didn't take them long to find the staircase; it followed the outer wall, curving upward, holes in the stone testifying to the missing balustrade that must have crumbled centuries ago. "I can't see up past the ceiling," Ianto said, aiming the light upward.
"It might be blocked. We'll have to check it out."
Ianto bowed, smirking. "Age before beauty."
"I'm so going to get you for that…"
Jack had just put his foot on the first step, when a rustling sound echoed throughout the chamber.
The two glanced at each other, then back out into the room. Ianto raised the globe once more, letting its light shine into the space beyond them.
Something was moving on the outskirts of the magical glow.
As one, the two men stepped away from the stairs. Whatever it was moved as well, coming into the light, so they could see it more easily.
Ianto gasped. He couldn't help it.
It was a dragon.
The creature was beautiful. Its scales were red, with golden sparks throwing the light back at the two men. Brilliant green eyes regarded them from above a long snout, sharp white teeth bared in a snarl, and a single golden horn grew from the center of its forehead. It stood on well-muscled rear legs, front legs pawing the air. Bat-like wings spread from its back, at full extension…which if Ianto had to guess, he would have said was about eight feet across, from wing-tip to shoulder. The body itself was about half the size of a fully-grown man, but with long neck and sinuous tail that just about tripled its length.
The dragon launched itself at them with a deafening screech. Jack just had enough time to shout, "Split up!" before Ianto was running, keeping the wall at his right side.
He met up with the captain at the opposite side of the room, as the dragon was settling back to the ground. His heart was hammering, with both fear and exhilaration.
Jack put a hand out, pushing Ianto a little behind him and making a shushing noise. "Oh, you beauty," he murmured appreciatively, holding a hand out as if he wanted to reach out and pet those glittering scales.
"I thought dragons were supposed to be extinct," Ianto said, his voice as quiet as Jack's had been.
"They were," Jack confirmed. "They were supposed to have died out when the last of the Wizards did."
"I wonder how this one came to be here."
"Trapped, poor thing." The mercenary took at tentative step forward. "You can't stay here," he addressed the magnificent creature once more. "Come with us, and we'll take you somewhere where you can fly free."
Ianto stepped along with Jack, his eyes on the dragon. It was flapping its wings, and it hissed as they got closer. The magic at the back of his mind was itching, and it only took a single blink for him to be able to see the creature in another light entirely.
The dragon's appearance didn't change much, but Ianto could see the magic surrounding it, like a golden-red aura. The green eyes caught the archivist's own, and it was as if the beast recognized something in the young man. It made a keening sound, hopping forward.
Ianto grabbed Jack's arm, stopping their cautious steps. "Just what is your plan, anyway?"
The captain shrugged out of the grasp, not looking at the younger man. "One strike to the nerve bundle under its front right leg will incapacitate it for a short bit. I'll distract it, while you get close enough – "
"And it will rip you to shreds!"
"No way. Been around dragons before, back when I was mortal – long story," he interrupted himself, glancing at Ianto and doing a double-take; Ianto blinked, bringing his eyes back to normal. "You circle around…let's go."
The captain's looked stunned at Ianto's refusal to follow such a foolhardy plan. "You said you know dragons, it would make more sense for me to be the decoy."
"It's too dangerous."
"But I have a secret weapon." He pulled the pack off his shoulder, digging around inside. His fingers found what they were looking for, drawing the small wooden box out past the other contents. He showed it to Jack. "Chocolate. Preferably dark."
After all…who didn't like chocolate?
Ianto stepped around Jack, leaving the surprised Immortal as he moved toward the anxious dragon. Jack had been right; it was a beauty, all red and gold and magic rolled into one wonderful creature. They had to save it. Ianto wouldn't accept any other outcome.
Out of the corner of his eye, the archivist could see his companion mirroring him as they encircled the dragon. Ianto slid the box open, pulling a hunk of the dark chocolate from the box and holding it out. He whistled to get the dragon's attention; it succeeded, and those green eyes watched Ianto as he crept closer. "Got your favorite," he crooned, even though he had no real idea if that was true. With an underhanded toss, he threw the chunk in front of the dragon, who seemed very interested in it. "It's good for your hormone levels…if you have hormones, that is…"
The dragon's snout nudged the chocolate, then picked it up in its needle-like teeth. It threw it up in the air slightly, catching it and crunching it happily. At least, to Ianto it looked happy. He let out a breath he didn't know he was even holding.
But suddenly, the dragon seemed to sense someone behind it. It whirled to face Jack, who'd nearly managed to sneak up on it.
It screeched, launching itself back into the air. Jack lunged, grabbing its leg as it became completely airborne.
And the dragon was flying, Jack dangling from underneath.
Ianto's heart lurched. Yes, the dragon couldn't fly too far, but the mercenary could be seriously hurt if it decided to drop him, or even attack. He watched as they sailed about the room, as if tried to shake Jack off.
Jack was yelling, and if Ianto had to judge he'd have guessed the captain was having the time of his very long life.
Of course he was. Git.
There was a flurry of movement, and suddenly Jack was falling. Ianto rushed forward, trying to cushion the impact, dropping pack and globe and box in order to grab better.
The breath was driven from his body as the captain hit, throwing them both to the stone floor. "Sorry," Jack gasped, as the archivist fought to get air back into his lungs.
But he saw the dragon; it was plummeting straight toward the pair.
Ianto didn't think, he just acted. He rolled the two of them across the floor, and out of the way of the stunned creature.
He laughed; he couldn't help it. All the adrenaline overcame the oppression of their surroundings, and he looked down at Jack, who was now the one lying on the stone. Jack was laughing too; his face flushed with excitement and his chest heaving.
And it was then that Ianto realized just how close he was to the other man. They were practically breathing the same air. His heart stuttered, then began to beat faster.
Jack must have noticed at the same time. His laughter faded, and he gazed into Ianto's eyes as the archivist lay on top of him. Ianto met that look with one of his own, his own hilarity dying.
He could have gotten up. That would have been the proper thing to do. But Ianto didn't want to do the proper thing.
So he didn't.
Jack's lips were just as firm as he remembered. The mercenary reacted quickly, returning the kiss as enthusiastically as Ianto was at giving it. The archivist pressed closer, opening his mouth even as Jack was doing the same, letting their tongues dance together as hands moved to caress each other through their clothes.
Ianto could taste it once more: the magic, sparkling on Jack's tongue like a pleasurable shock. He moaned, he couldn't help it.
Time seemed to stop as they lay there, exploring each other's mouths. Jack somehow managed to get a hand under Ianto's tunic to stroke the skin on the young man's back, and it was like completing a magical circuit, and the Deep Ways that permeated both of them began to rise in response to their burgeoning arousals.
A sudden noise broke through the haze of their sensations, and they broke the kiss reluctantly. Both men were panting, and Ianto rested his forehead against Jack's. "The dragon is waking up," he whispered.
Neither man seemed willing to move.
"Um…you need to get up first," Jack muttered.
"Yeah. We should go."
Jack's arms were still around him, and weren't letting go.
"Jack…you need to let me go."
"I know." His arms slid away, releasing Ianto from his grasp.
The archivist was very disappointed.
Ianto slowly got to his feet, his knees feeling like rubber and his trousers a bit tighter than normal. He held out a hand to Jack, who took it and allowed himself to be pulled up.
Ianto didn't let the hand go.
"Let's…" Jack cleared his throat.
"Yeah," Ianto agreed.
They stood there, until another snort from the dragon startled them both. Ianto picked up his belongings, and they made their way back to the stairs, beginning to make their way upward.
"You really do surprise me, Ianto Jones."
"I do try…sir."
"Are we going to have to work on the whole 'sir' thing again?" Jack was smiling.
"A little more, I believe...sir."
Jack snorted. "I do expect to return to what we were doing, at some point."
Ianto smirked. "I think that can be arranged." He was a little surprised at his brazenness. It really wasn't like him.
"I intend to hold you to that."
"I always keep my promises."
"So do I."
They grinned at each other.
Yes, Ianto Jones did keep on surprising him.
Jack kept casting glances in the archivist's direction as they worked to clear the stones blocking the stairs, his hands moving on automatic as he thought about what had just happened, and what would most likely happen in the future. His spirit felt buoyed, for one of the few times in his horribly long life. Here was someone who knew about him; knew about his Deathlessness and accepted it…and actually wanted to be with him, if that kiss was anything to judge by. The mercenary realized this young man could be so much more to him that just a one nighter, and while that thought disturbed him more than a little, the happiness that came with such a possibility outweighed it.
The blockage wasn't bad, and it wasn't long before they had enough moved so they could exit the underground room. Jack could still feel the oppressiveness of the atmosphere, and knowing it was some sort of spell didn't do a lot to dispel the unease that rose despite the light feelings that being with Ianto engendered. He could tell the younger man was as affected, judging from the frown that seemed to have settled over his features like a shroud. Jack found himself thinking that a face that gorgeous shouldn't have that sort of expression on it, then berated himself for sounding like a teenage girl caught in the first throes of a crush.
Oh Gods…help me.
But that kiss had been something pretty amazing. How could Jack help but not be a bit blown away by it?
"Between the two of us," Ianto said, breaking the silence that had sprung up between them as they'd worked, "we should be able to get the dragon out of here, too."
"She won't be that heavy," Jack answered. "They're like birds: hollow bones."
"You're going to have to tell me how you know so much about dragons," the younger man said, as they made their way back down to where the dragon lay. "And…she?"
Jack smirked. "I did get sort of up close and personal to her."
Ianto snorted. "Is it any excuse with you, Jack?"
"Hey…I do have some standards!" He was enjoying this sort of banter; and Ianto was always able to give as good as he got.
"I have yet to see them, sir. You seem to be an equal opportunity flirt."
Jack had to admit: he actually liked it when Ianto called him 'sir', especially in that teasing tone he had. "I've been told that it's one of my most endearing characteristics!"
"And was that person possibly inebriated at the time?"
"Maybe… a little."
"I rest my case."
They made their way back to where they'd left the dragon. She was awake, but remained curled up on the stone floor, watching them intently. "We may have to incapacitate her again," Jack said. He really didn't want to, but they might not have a choice if she decided to fight them.
"She seems…rather quiet though."
"Could be waiting for us to get closer. Dragons are dangerous, wild creatures. We can't lose sight of that."
The dragon's head was moving sinuously on her long neck. She truly was a beautiful thing, and it took Jack's breath away to watch her regarding them with those large green eyes.
"In my experience," Jack went on, "only a Wizard can fully control a dragon. They make the best familiars."
"Did your friend have one?" Ianto's tone was curious, but there was something else in it the mercenary couldn't identify it.
"Master John? Yes, he did. A blue one. He called her Tardis, and he kept saying it meant something in some sort of ancient language. He never told me what it was, though. I thought it sounded kinda weird, to be honest." Jack remembered hearing the dragon screeching as she and her master vanished from the death-filled air of Gateway, and shivered slightly. "Although I did get along with her." Then he laughed. "Master John did accuse me of flirting with her…"
"And I'm sure you did just that, sir."
"Are you laughing at me, Master Ianto?" He tried to make the question sound petulant, but couldn't keep the smile from his voice.
"Why would I do that, Captain Harkness?" The return question sounded almost choked.
Jack looked at him, seeing the tiny smile that Ianto was trying so hard to hide. "Do you think we can put aside the dissection of my personality quirks and get the hells out of here?"
"I'm certain I could keep my pleasure at such a task at bay until we figure out how to get this little lady out of here without either of us getting hurt."
"Glad to hear it."
The dragon was still watching them, and didn't seem all that afraid of either of them. It was a change from the creature they'd first seen, and Jack was glad that she seemed so calm. But he knew it could be the calm before the storm; dragons were capricious, and powerful. They didn't trust easily and Jack knew it would most likely be a fight to get her out of that underground room.
He wondered how she'd gotten down there in the first place, and then amended that mental question to how she could be alive and there in the first place. He'd been serious about dragons having died out. None had been seen in centuries. So it was a puzzle as to just where this one had come from.
He glanced at his companion. Ianto's attention was back on the dragon, his eyes examining her minutely. Yet, there was something else in that look, something akin to understanding.
And Jack knew.
He knew exactly why that dragon was there, and what it meant.
His heart stuttered for a moment, and then began to race. This was impossible. It had to be. But he'd seen the evidence of his own eyes, and couldn't deny what the dragon's presence most likely meant.
"Ianto," he said softly, "I think you should be the one to carry her out of here."
"Me?" the answer was almost a squeak…not that the archivist would ever admit to squeaking, Jack was sure.
"I think…she'll respond to you."
"And how do you come up with that?"
Ianto was looking at him, eyes wide in confusion. Jack could see a faint gold ring around his pupils, although he doubted anyone else would have, if they hadn't been looking for it beyond the normal blue. "Dragons are magical," he replied. "And so are you."
"Jack…I…" Ianto swallowed hard. "I think you have an inflated perception of my abilities."
"I don't think I do. Ianto…you can tap into the Deep Ways. Only Wizards can do that."
The archivist was shaking his head. "I'm just a Catalyst. I touch magical things, and I know how they work. Admittedly, that ability has been growing stronger of late…"
"It's more than that." Jack faced him, putting both hands on the younger man's shoulders. "You sent John Hart somewhere just by thinking about it. You could see the ghosts of Gateway. You were able to figure out my secret. No, I think your magic goes way beyond what you think it does."
Ianto laughed hollowly. "So, you're saying I'm a Wizard."
"I think you could be, yes." Jack pitched his voice low, trying to soothe the archivist. "You know it makes sense."
The shock in Ianto's eyes was so strong it almost scalded Jack with its intensity. Beyond that, though, he could see him putting the pieces together, like a puzzle only the two of them could see. "I…Gods, Jack…I need to think…"
"Let's get out of here first, all right? Then you can all the time you need. And, if you need to talk…"
Ianto nodded mutely. He slid out of Jack's grasp, turning his attention back to the dragon, who was still watching them. Jack could see him swallowing convulsively, as if trying to keep something down.
Then he took a step closer to the dragon. Jack held his breath as Ianto moved, ready to interfere if the dragon proved to be untouchable. He knew he was right, but there was still the chance that the dragon wasn't there for Ianto at all. He really had no idea how a Wizard and familiar found one another, although Master John had claimed that he'd stolen Tardis from her very nest, just after she'd hatched.
Suddenly Jack found his hand full of light globe, and Ianto was digging around in his pack once more. He pulled out the box that had held the chocolate; Jack was a bit jealous that Ianto was willing to share with the dragon and not him, but now wasn't the time to say anything.
The dragon kept her eyes on Ianto, head weaving slightly on that long, graceful neck. He held out a piece of the dark chocolate, making a few nonsense sounds as if he were trying to placate an infant. Well, maybe he was; Jack had no way of telling just how old the dragon was, although he doubted she was all that young.
Another step closer, and the dragon was sniffing the air, her head moving toward Ianto. Jack almost didn't want to watch, but he kept his eyes on both the archivist and the creature, his hand creeping toward his sword. He really wished she'd remained incapacitated until they'd left the underground; the oppressive atmosphere was making them all jumpy, and he knew that wouldn't help any of them.
Then the dragon was looking directly at Jack. The mercenary knew that the magical beasts were intelligent, but what he saw in those green eyes surprised him. It was recognition, and for a split second Jack wondered if she wasn't there for him, instead. But the eyes focused back on Ianto, and she shuffled a bit closer, her wings unfurling slightly and her tail flicking back and forth, although she didn't seem agitated.
"Why do I get the feeling I'm doing something extremely foolhardy?" came Ianto's strained whisper.
"You're not," Jack encouraged. "I can't tell you how I know, I just do. She's here for you."
"That gives me a lot of confidence, Jack."
"Stop being sarcastic and get to dragon wrangling!"
Ianto's shoulders stiffened, but he didn't say anything else. He simply moved closer, and Jack's heart also moved…to somewhere in the vicinity of his throat. His hand curled over the hilt of his sword, needing to be ready in case he was mistaken.
The dragon suddenly made a chirping noise, and ducked her head under Ianto's approaching hand, her mouth open almost like a baby bird's, waiting for her mother to feed her.
Jack had to stifle a laugh at that thought. He knew Ianto wouldn't appreciate it.
But he did release that breath he'd been holding.
Ianto fed the dragon the chocolate, which she seemed to be in raptures over. Then she butted her snout into the archivist's now-empty hand, cooing softly.
"Looks like you have a new friend," Jack commented, letting his hand drop from his weapon.
Ianto glanced back at him; the captain was stunned by the smile that graced the younger man's features. He felt a very small flare of jealousy that the creature could have made him looked like that, and Jack was determined that he would do the same.
I really have it bad…
"What say we get out of here?" Jack suggested. "I don't much care for the atmosphere down here."
"I agree completely." The archivist rubbed the dragon's head at the base of the golden horn. "Come on," he murmured to her, "let's go."
He turned her back on the creature…
And suddenly she leapt, claws clutching at Ianto's shoulders.
His cry of surprise had Jack's sword halfway out of its sheath before the captain realized that Ianto wasn't in any danger. He watched as the dragon practically curled herself around Ianto's body, front claws caught delicately in the fabric of the archivist's tunic, back claws clasping at his waist. The long tail wrapped about his chest, while the neck looped around Ianto's neck, so her head could rest on his shoulder. Her wings furled closely to her back, in order to keep them out of the way.
Jack had to laugh as Ianto tried to see what she was doing. He craned his head around, eyes slightly panicked. "She's not going to eat me, is she?" he exclaimed, his voice squeaking yet again.
"No…I think she wants to cuddle."
Ianto looked affronted. "I don't cuddle!"
Jack leered. "That's too bad. I wouldn't have minded a cuddle."
"Tease me and you'll be lucky if you get any sort of affection from me, Captain Harkness!" He shifted his shoulders under the unexpected weight.
The mercenary held his hands up in surrender. "Is she too heavy?"
"No," he admitted. "Like you said…hollow bones. But…Jack…" His wide eyes met Jack's. "This means you were right. About me, that is. I'm really some sort of…Wizard?"
"Looks that way. But then, I've known there was something special about you for a while now."
"You have? How?"
Jack grimaced. "Um…I saw you, back at the Castle, once when you were in the Archives working. You were using those glasses of yours, and I could tell they were magical. And since not everyone can use magical items…"
Ianto rolled his eyes. "Were you stalking me?"
"I wouldn't call it stalking…more like admiring. I can't help it if I like looking at you."
That comment rewarded Jack with a blush that went all the way up to Ianto's ears. "Can we leave now?"
Jack bowed, waving his arm to usher Ianto forward. That was when Jack saw the drawback of the archivist carrying around a dragon on his back…
He couldn't admire Ianto's ass quite as well as he'd gotten used to.
Ianto really didn't know what to think.
His thoughts did laps in his mind, trying to reconcile what he'd always believed about himself and what he'd found out since leaving Cardiff. One thing kept surfacing, as he and Jack – and their new addition – made their way up the crumbling steps and into the main hall of the tower: that was, if he hadn't insisted on coming along, he'd have still been ignorant of just what he could do. Would he have ever have found out? Well, to be honest he had no idea. He wasn't half-convinced that Jack was correct, although Ianto had seen enough evidence that the mercenary was certainly onto something.
The weight on his back shifted slightly as the men picked their way across the ruined hall, toward the broken front doors. There was an actual dragon perched on his back. She wasn't all that heavy; it was like having a particularly stuffed backpack on, although the tail around his waist pinched a bit. A rapid heartbeat pulsed through him from his burden, and lungs moved against him as the creature breathed softly against his ear. A real, honest-to-Gods dragon. It just wasn't possible. No matter how pragmatic Ianto's outlook was, accepting that he was carrying around a supposedly extinct animal was so very surreal he just knew he was in some sort of dream and that he'd wake up by the fire back at camp and have a good laugh about it.
And then, there was Jack.
He could see the captain casting appraising glances in his direction as they walked together toward the doors. He'd admitted to himself that he'd been attracted to the man for a while now, but Ianto had never thought he'd actually kiss him. Certainly, he could see Jack taking the initiative like he had back at Gateway, but Ianto wasn't the sort to put himself forward like that. It had felt right, though. Like it had been meant to be.
Sort of like having a dragon riding on his back like a living pack.
The archivist needed to get his thoughts back into their compartments. If he could do that, perhaps he could then begin to make some sense out of them. They were all tangled together, and he couldn't twist them apart. Would he have been more content if he'd never been exposed to these ideas? If he'd simply stayed at Torchwood Castle and continued on as he'd been?
That was the second time he'd asked himself that question. And he knew, in a flash of insight, that the answer was a resounding "no". Hiding away wasn't the answer; at least not in this instance.
Ianto wondered vaguely what the Baroness would say, when she found out that her Master Archivist was actually a Wizard. Probably shit herself, then wonder just how she could use it to her – and Torchwood's – advantage.
They had to wrestle one of the doors open enough to squeeze past. Once they were outside, the oppressiveness of the tower seemed to fade a little, but it was still strong enough to cast a pall over Ianto's thoughts. He wondered about the Wizard who'd lived there; why they'd enchanted the tower so deeply that, even centuries afterward, the spell would affect anyone who came close. Judging from the condition of the building, the Wizard had put far more effort into that particular spell than they had the standard preservation magicks that would have kept it from deteriorating into the shape it was now. He shivered slightly, glad to be back into the free air.
"Let's be careful," Jack said, speaking for the first time since leaving the lower room. "We don't want another collapse like we had. Personally, I don't relish dying again tonight." He chuckled harshly. "Until this mission, I hadn't died in almost a year. I was beginning to get used to it."
He tried to make it sound offhand, but Ianto heard something in the older man's voice that he thought was fear. He wanted to ask if it hurt, when the Deathless resurrected, but suspected that he already knew that answer. He'd seen Jack come back, and it hadn't looked like fun. "I'm sorry, Jack," he replied.
"For what?" The captain looked at him curiously, the light from the globe highlighting his cheekbones.
"For getting you killed. A couple of times now."
"You didn't have anything to do with it, Ianto. It's just the mission. It wouldn't be the first one to have been a bit rough."
"Don't beat yourself up over it. It'll be fine."
Ianto opened his mouth to say that it wouldn't, actually be fine, but the words were choked off as the dragon suddenly shifted. With a small screech the creature launched herself off his back, wings carrying her into the air and the force of the push off sending Ianto straight into Jack's side.
The captain's reflexes saved them both from a fall; he grabbed the archivist and managed to keep them both upright. "You all right?" he asked, setting Ianto back onto his feet.
"Yes, although I'm going to have to have a talk with her about doing that sort of thing." Ianto brushed himself down.
"You should name her."
Jack kept his arm around Ianto's waist, even though the young man was now steady. Ianto wasn't about to argue with the gesture. "I think my biggest concern is how to actually explain her presence without people freaking out on me."
"I'm sure you'll come up with something." Jack removed his arm, and Ianto missed it instantly.
The archivist looked up; he could just make out the shape of the dragon against the stars. "She's magnificent, isn't she?"
"Yes, she is." Jack tugged on his arm. "Come on. Let's get back to camp. Looks like we have several hours before dawn, and we both need to get some rest before we tackle that tower for real."
They began walking once more. In the distance Ianto could make out the glow of the fire, where Jack's team would be sleeping. "I wish I had access to the Archives; I'd love to know more about her."
"Well," Jack answered, "I can tell you what I know. It's not much, only what Master John told me…"
There was such a wistfulness in Jack's voice when he mentioned the Wizard, but at the same time there was a world of hurt there as well. Ianto knew where both came from, and he wished he could go back and change things for Jack, to rid him of the curse that had been settled on his shoulders. Despite his words about it being done out of love, he couldn't help but feel a bit of anger over the whole situation. He thought back to his question, about Jack seeking a way to end his life; at the time, he'd been disappointed by the lack of an answer. But now…no, he wasn't. Not anymore. Jack had been around for a little over a thousand years, and Ianto couldn't blame him if he was tired of the existence he'd never asked for.
It was then that he realized just how much he would miss Jack if he were gone. He would miss the man very much indeed.
"I'd love to hear about it," he murmured quietly.
Even though he wasn't looking at Jack in that moment, somewhere Ianto knew the captain was pleased. "I know that, once a dragon has chosen its companion, that they're loyal until death. Nothing will ever separate her from you, unless you order it. I also know that a dragon can sometimes enhance spell casting, although I'm not quite sure how that works."
"Spell casting?" Ianto blurted. "I don't think that'll be an issue; I doubt any Wizard's gramaryia have survived until today."
"I'm sure you'll make due."
Hearing Jack's confidence in his abilities made Ianto's heart do a strange flipping thing that was really pretty pleasant. "I'll always have my Catalyst powers, though. And I'll have to practice with the Deep Ways – "
"Be careful with them," Jack warned. "The Deep Ways are dangerous. People aren't supposed to be able to channel that sort of power."
Ianto appreciated Jack's concern, but he'd already done it twice. "I can feel them, even now," he confessed. "They're inside me, a part of me." He stopped, pulling Jack to a halt with a hand on his arm. He met the man's eyes squarely. "I can't explain it – hells, I'm not sure I even still believe it – but I think this was always meant to happen. And I think my Gran knew."
"What do you mean?"
The archivist sighed. "Back, when I was attacked by Adam in Haven…he used his power to find a memory that was of me, of who I was. It was of my Gran, and she was telling me I was special…but the thing is, I don't remember it at all. Something happened, and it made me forget until Adam messed with my head. It was back when I was a child. And I forgot about it. But my Gran knew, she was trying to help me."
"Just who was your grandmother, Ianto?" Jack's eyes were narrowed, but steady on his.
"Her name was Carys. She was Cardiff, born and bred. She once said that her family had lived there since before the Castle. Beyond that…she was a mystery to me. Maybe my parents know more, but unfortunately we can't ask Gran herself."
"You think there are more memories that you can't recall?"
"Could be." He smirked. "Although, since I don't remember them, I can't be more certain."
"You make sarcasm sexy, Ianto."
"I'll keep that in mind…sir."
Jack's eyebrow went up. "Sir? Really?"
"Really." Ianto really only called him "sir" because he secretly suspected that Jack enjoyed it. "Now…back to dragons."
They began walking again. "I know they're empathic, and very intelligent."
"I haven't really felt anything from her yet…"
"You will. She just chose you; it'll take time to develop that bond. Once that's done, she'll also feel more comfortable in broadcasting to people you're closest to. There may be times when you might be able to actually see through her eyes as well, although that's a pretty advanced ability. It might take even longer to develop that one. I know Master John could, but he and Tardis had been together for a very long time. Their dragon/Wizard bond is very powerful."
"Sounds like it." It made Ianto more than a little apprehensive that another creature would be that close to him.
They were close enough to the camp for the archivist to extinguish the light globe, stowing it back into his pack for safekeeping. The rest of the group were asleep, and it suddenly occurred to Ianto that they'd left the three of them pretty much defenseless while they'd been dragon wrangling, as Jack had put it. A rush of guilt made him blush, and he hoped that Jack didn't notice. Anything could have happened while they'd been gone, and it made the young man aware of just how stupid he'd been for going off alone.
Before they could enter the ring of firelight, Jack touched Ianto on the arm. "I wanted to ask you something," he spoke softly. At Ianto's nod, he continued, "You mentioned something back at the tower, about being able to touch something magical and knowing how it worked. And you used the term Catalyst twice now…"
Ianto knew that Jack would bring it up eventually. "That's what my ability was called, since I'm a catalyst to make magical objects work; and since they had a word for it, I would guess I wasn't the only one able to do it, and they knew how to Test for it. But I do know that I'm the only one there's been in the last three generations, and that makes me very valuable to the Baroness."
"You make it sound like you're some sort of commodity." There was a thin veil of outrage in Jack's voice.
"But that's exactly what I am, Jack. I'm a resource to Torchwood Castle; I've signed a contract. I've accepted that."
"You can't let the Baroness treat you like you're less than a human being!"
"I'm very well treated at the Castle. I love my work. You're making a big deal out of nothing, Jack."
"You should travel with us."
Ianto's mouth opened, then closed. He honestly didn't know what to say to that; he'd fully expected to go back to Cardiff and take up his duties once more. "I can't break my contract."
"Like hells you can't! It's done all the time!"
"It may be done "all the time" but not by me. I have more honor than that." He took a deep breath. "Look, thank you for the sentiment, but you know as well as I that it wouldn't work. Your team barely tolerates me as it is, with the exception of Toshiko. I'm pretty well useless, except to make coffee. You don't need me to come with you, Jack."
"I think you'd be a valuable asset to the team, Ianto."
The archivist barely managed to contain his eye roll. "You object to me calling myself a Torchwood resource; and yet you proceed to call me a possible "asset" to the team? Don't you think that's just a bit hypocritical?"
"That's not what I meant! Damnit, Ianto – "
"Keep your voice down, or else you'll wake the others."
"I just think we can make this work." Jack's voice dropped to a whisper.
"No, Jack. After this is done, I'm going back to the Castle. It's where I'm needed, and I can use my knowledge and experience to the utmost. You don't need me here. Not really."
The captain didn't say anything. He simply stared at Ianto, and the younger man found himself growing distinctly uncomfortable under that sharp gaze. He took a deliberate step into Ianto's personal space. "Maybe the team doesn't need you, Ianto," he finally answered, "but I do. You know about me, and accept me for who I am. That's something that hasn't happened in centuries."
"And I can still do that back in Cardiff. Please Jack…just drop this. Neither one of us is going to back down, nor do I want to fight with you."
"Fine." Jack moved back, his jaw clenched. "Get some rest. You'll need it tomorrow."
With that, the mercenary captain turned and walked away from the campsite, leaving Ianto alone with his thoughts.
"What the fuck is that?"
The shout roused Jack from the doze he'd fallen into; and the accompanying sound of a sword sliding from a sheath had him on his feet in a heartbeat.
He found himself staring at a shocked Owen Harper, waving his sword in Ianto's general direction. His cry awoke the other team members; Suzie was getting to her feet, holding her sheathed weapon in one hand, the other resting on the hilt in preparation of drawing it; and Toshiko was still kneeling on her bed roll, but had her bow up and an arrow in the process of being fitted to the string. Both women looked as shocked as Owen did, and they were also staring at Ianto as if seeing him for the first time.
It took Jack another second to realize that it wasn't the archivist they were watching: it was the dragon, coiled at the younger man's feet, golden red wings catching the sunlight.
Ianto had put himself between the creature and the teams' weapons, his hand held up in an effort to stop them from doing anything stupid. "She's a dragon," he answered calmly. "And her name is Myfanwy."
Jack was gratified that he'd chosen a name; but count on Ianto to come up with something native to him and Cardiff. "Put the weapons down," he ordered. "She's not going to hurt anyone."
"Bloody hell, Harkness," Owen snapped, not lowering his sword. "You're lucky it didn't eat us in our sleep! What's up with letting that into our camp?"
"She won't eat anyone," Jack answered, going to stand next to Ianto in protecting the dragon. He heard her chirp, and felt her rub against his leg. He glanced down, catching the green eyes looking up at him. "And I didn't let her do anything; she's a creature with a will of her own."
Then he turned his attention back to his people. Toshiko had followed his instruction, her bow down on the ground, her eyes filled with wonder as she got her first good look at the creature crouching behind Ianto and himself. "She's a real dragon?" she whispered.
"Yes, she is," Jack said, smiling. Trust his Tosh to get it before the others. "She's a beauty, isn't she?"
The Elven woman nodded. "Can I touch her?"
Jack was about to tell her that it was up to Ianto and the newly-named Myfanwy, but Owen broke in. "Are you crazy? Don't go near it!"
"I have to agree with Owen on this," Suzie finally spoke. She'd removed her hand from her sword's hilt, but still held the sheathed weapon close. "We don't know what it'll do."
"I know what she'll do," Ianto answered, exasperated. "She won't hurt anyone unless I tell her to. And yes, Tosh…you can touch her."
"What do you mean, "unless you tell her to?" Since when did you become a beast tamer, Coffee Boy?" Owen snarked, reaching out a hand to stop Tosh from moving forward, and missing as the Elf slid past him.
Jack didn't have to see it to know that Ianto had just rolled his eyes. "Since I apparently became a Wizard," he snarked back angrily. "Which was just last night."
"Did you want to actually say that?" Jack asked. Telling the team about a dragon was one thing; but admitting that you're a Wizard was something else entirely. He wasn't so sure it was a good idea, as much as he trusted his people. And then realized just how hypocritical that sounded.
"I usually say exactly what I mean, sir," came the reply.
The captain actually flinched at that. After their words last night, he could see why Ianto might want to step back from him a bit. But Jack had had the best intentions at heart; he really wanted Ianto to travel with them, and not just because the archivist knew about him and accepted him for whom he was.
But it was strange…he'd been wanting to keep his secrets, and now the younger man was opening himself up to the others. Maybe it was just because there was no way to hide a dragon from them, and thought that being honest was the truth…or perhaps it was something that Jack just wasn't privy to.
"A wizard. Right." Owen snorted. "Have any delusions of grandeur lately?"
"According to lore," Toshiko said, "only Wizards can control dragons." Her eyes were on Myfanwy's head, as she peeked out from behind Jack's knees.
"Hells, Tosh! You're not buying into this are you?"
She turned to look over her shoulder at the battle surgeon. "I'm just accepting what my eyes are seeing, Owen. Ianto's got a dragon, which shouldn't be possible…unless he's a Wizard. Seems fairly logical to me."
"What do you plan on doing with it?" Suzie demanded, her expression still uncomfortable.
"She is coming with me," Ianto answered, overemphasizing the creature's gender. "She chose me."
"And just when did that happen?' Owen challenged.
Jack glanced at the archivist; his face was stony, and he was staring the surgeon down. "If you must know…last night. I went to explore the tower. Myfanwy was there. That's all there is."
"I was with Ianto," Jack backed him up. "I saw it happen, and he's right…the dragon did choose him. It was like we were meant to find her."
Jack had had time to think about it last night, after leaving Ianto at camp. He was more convinced than ever that Ianto was a nascent Wizard, and that the dragon had been there waiting. How she'd known about Ianto, Jack didn't know; but it made far too much sense.
"And you two idiots went off last night and didn't tell us?" Now Owen sounded disgusted. "What would've happened if you'd run into trouble?"
"It wasn't the Captain's fault," Ianto defended. "I wanted to check out the tower without anyone with me, hoping I'd be able to discover something and not have to worry about awkward questions. Captain Harkness just happened to see me leave, and followed me."
Jack just managed to hide his flinch at Ianto's second attempt at distancing. He wondered if he could fix it. He also wondered why it needed fixing. All he'd done was ask him to come along, and to break his contract with Torchwood Castle. The captain had never really agreed with the contract system, and hoped it wouldn't be long before it was done away with. The idea of Ianto tying himself to someone who thought of him as a resource was galling. What was more galling was the idea that Ianto apparently felt that the Baroness was right.
There was a soft cooing coming from about knee level; he looked down and saw that Myfanwy had allowed Toshiko to touch her head, and was in fact enjoying a nice scratch around the base of her golden horn. The red-gold scales glittered in the early morning light as the dragon's head bobbed under the Elf's stroking hand. The look on Tosh's face was beautiful to see.
Glancing up, Jack caught Ianto staring down at the pair as well; his eyes softened as he watched Toshiko with the dragon. Then he noticed Jack watching him, and turned away. "Myfanwy is mine," he concluded. "She won't bother you, if you don't bother her."
"Ianto's right," Jack backed him. "Leave him and the dragon alone."
Owen muttered something under his breath; Jack caught the words "Coffee Boy" and "stupid" as the surgeon sheathed his sword and turned back to his bed roll. Suzie seemed interested in Toshiko's interaction with the dragon, then turned away herself when the captain stared at her. He didn't think they'd have any more problems with Myfanwy being around, but Jack figured it wouldn't do any harm to keep an eye out.
He cleared his throat, then asked, "I take it she came back during the night?"
"She did," Ianto answered softly. "She just curled up next to me and went to sleep. I think Owen's reaction startled both of us. I'm surprised she didn't do anything."
"She would've waited for you to say something. Or else Owen proving that he was more of a threat."
"I should have expected this sort of reaction, and had her sleep somewhere else."
"No, not at all. Don't worry about it, Ianto."
The archivist shrugged, and then moved away. That left Jack standing there, feeling somewhat bereft and still acting as a wall between Myfanwy and the rest of the team. Except for Toshiko, of course, who was quite happy making baby sounds to the dragon and rubbing her scales.
"Should I be jealous?" he quipped, in order to hide his feelings of loss at Ianto's leaving.
Tosh tilted her head up, smiling softly. "Not at all, Jack. You know you're the only one for me."
"Ah…if that were only true, my beautiful Toshiko." He was well aware of her unrequited feelings toward Owen, and it made Jack despair of her ever finding someone while she carried that obvious torch. A part of Jack hoped that the surgeon would never notice, because quite honestly he thought the man wasn't good enough for his Elven lady.
"I really don't think it's me you have to worry about." Her head turned in the direction that the archivist had gone, and Jack didn't need any sort of magical power to know just what she was intimating at.
"Leave it rest, all right?" He wanted it to sound like a warning, but it came out as a plea instead.
"I'm not blind, Jack. It's obvious you two have certain feelings for each other."
Myfanwy took that opportunity to scuttle out from behind Jack, stretching out on her back to let Tosh have access to her belly. Her tail wrapped itself loosely about Jack's leg, effectively pinning him in place when all Jack wanted to do was end the conversation and find something else to do. "Ianto's just going through a rough time right now," he answered. "It's not every day you find out you're a member of a long-dead race."
"He's really a Wizard then."
"Pretty certain, yes."
"And there's no one to help him figure out what that means."
Jack opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out. It was at that moment that he truly understood that he'd wanted to be the one who helped Ianto become what he was meant to be. That he wanted to be the one the archivist turned to, and to be the one who supported him as he learned about his heritage.
And it made Jack realize just how deeply his feeling ran.
He wanted to curse with the unfairness of it all.
There was no way anything between them could go any deeper than friendship with possible benefits. Jack had lived far too long, and had lost far too much, for that to change. But he also knew that Ianto Jones could change that, if Jack wasn't very careful. Well, he'd known he was in danger before, but this just really cemented that feeling.
"Well," he finally said, once Toshiko's gaze grew too much for him to handle, "it's kinda hard to help when no one knows what being a Wizard really means."
The Elf's dark eyes looked disappointed.
"Your Grace," Master Andrew said, poking his head around the door into the sitting room, "you have a caller."
Gwen glanced up from the book she was reading. "Do they have an appointment?"
"No, Your Grace."
"Then have them make one, and tell them to come back some other day." While Gwen didn't actually have anything pressing to do, she was hoping Rhys would get done with his meeting with the Merchants' Guild and that they could have lunch together. She really didn't want anyone to interrupt those possible plans.
"He says it's of some urgency, Your Grace." Andrew came further into the room. "He says he has information in regards to Lord Henry Parker."
The Baroness stifled a sigh. She didn't care at all for Lord Henry; in fact, it was often her most fervent wish that he'd just die already. Henry Parker had been a thorn in her family's side for years and it was Gwen could do to put up with the man's eccentricities. "Did he give you any other reason why I should see him now?"
Andrew managed to look furtive without seeming ridiculous at it. "He says it's about Captain Harkness…and his mission."
That made her sit up straighter, and to lay the book aside. Anger bubbled up inside her. Gods…she'd trusted Jack to keep this quiet, and yet Lord Henry apparently knew? Bloody hells. She was going to have to have words with Jack when they got back…
"Send him in." She was proud of herself, to have kept her irritation out of the command.
Andrew withdrew, and in moments threw open the door to admit a tall man, his dark hair pulled back from his face in a tail at his neck. His suit was impeccable, and he looked every inch the sycophant that Lord Henry would surround himself with.
Gwen stood. "I understand you have information about Lord Henry?" she asked haughtily.
The man inclined his head; it was all the obeisance Gwen knew he was going to give her. "I do, Your Grace," he answered smoothly, not bothering to introduce himself. "My lord has certain information that you may be interested in."
"I'm sure he does. Go on."
"Lord Henry knows about the errand you have sent the mercenary and his band on…and he knows who accompanies them. He intends on having the object of that errand, and that nothing will stop him from gaining it."
"And just how does your lord know what Captain Harkness is up to?" Jack better not have run his mouth; he might have been one of Gwen's favorites, but that sort of blunder would have her cancelling his contracts with Torchwood Castle in a heartbeat.
"He has certain…sources that he applies to for gaining knowledge of what occurs within his borders."
The man was being deliberately cagey, and it was all Gwen could do to control her eye roll. "That doesn't answer my question."
"I can assure you, Your Grace, that it's the only answer you are going to receive."
She wondered vaguely if throwing him in the dungeon would make her feel better, then refrained. She needed informants and alienating one of them could give her a reputation she'd rather avoid. "If Lord Henry tries to keep Captain Harkness and his people from completing their mission for me, that I'll have the Knights of Cardiff down on him so fast he won't know what hit him."
"Thank you for your information. I'll make certain this is worth your while." She dismissed him with a wave.
Once the man was gone, Gwen collapsed onto her chair. Gods, Jack…what have you done now?
She called Andrew back in. "Find Lord Sir Hallet for me. I need to speak to him."
Ianto sighed. The day just wasn't going all that well, and he hated it.
It was a subdued crew who gathered at the foot of the ruined tower. They were all nervous, being affected by the glamour that still hovered over the structure, the uncomfortable atmosphere not helping the strain they were all feeling.
There were different reasons for the strain, and Ianto could pretty much name each one. There was, of course, the sudden presence of Myfanwy; while Toshiko had happily accepted the dragon's appearance, Owen and Suzie were still staying well away from the creature. They were also giving Ianto a wide berth, bothered by his assertion that he was a Wizard. For Owen, it was sheer disbelief; but for Suzie, it seemed to be something more, as if his revelation was somehow affecting her differently. He couldn't put his finger on it, and it bothered him more than the surgeon's barbed comments.
Then there was the noticeable strain between Jack and Tosh. That one, Ianto couldn't identify. It was almost as if Jack had done something to disappoint her, and the Elven woman wasn't hiding it too well. He knew a bit of their back story; Tosh had shared with him on their long ride, and the archivist was well aware just how much Toshiko looked up to Jack. So, for the captain to have done something to affect that, it bothered Ianto more than a little.
Of course, that left Jack and himself. Well, that was easy to pinpoint; it was over Jack's asking Ianto to travel with them. The immortal just didn't seem to understand the reasons why, but then Ianto hadn't been too clear, either. While he'd enjoyed the adventure and getting away from the Castle, he loved his job more. The Torchwood Archives were his home, and they had been since he'd been apprenticed there five years ago. In fact, they were more his home than his family property was, and he just couldn't see himself ever leaving. Working for the Baroness gave him access to so many wonderful things…so what if she considered him a resource? That was a small price to pay in order to do what he loved.
But there was a part of him that did want to travel with Jack. It was getting to the point where Ianto could admit that he was quite smitten with the mercenary, and he wanted to spend as much time getting to know Jack as he could. But that didn't mean that he could simply pack up his life and become a wanderer. And Jack wasn't even considering the notion that, if he did decide to break his contract with Torchwood Castle that it would mean the mercenaries would be out of the lucrative contracts that the Baroness embodied. And, if the Castle chose to blacklist the team…they'd never be able to find work again.
There were times when Ianto hated being so logical.
A soft cooing sound came from about hip level; he glanced down, smiling as he saw Myfanwy staring up at him, her green eyes shining. One small claw was hooked into the hem of his tunic; Ianto almost noticed her tail was wrapped around Jack's leg, who was standing next to the dragon. There had been a time last night when he hadn't been sure if she'd come back, but she had. He was glad, because Ianto knew he would have missed her.
Her name had just come to him, even as Owen was confronting him over her. It just seemed to fit; and the dragon had seemed to agree. Ianto could feel certain things from her; he remembered Jack saying that dragons were empathic, and the archivist wondered if that bond was now developing. He still wasn't quite certain about Jack's assertion that Ianto was a Wizard, but he was coming to believe it more as time passed. Well, as he was able to process it, that was.
"This place hasn't improved over the last day," Suzie quipped, shifting on her feet. "Still feeling like I want to run and hide."
"That's the enchantment," Ianto murmured. "Whoever built this place wanted to keep people away."
"Inhospitable bastard," Owen added.
Ianto snorted. "I'd think you'd be familiar with that sort of thing."
Instead of making Owen pissed, the comment caused the surgeon to laugh.
"We need to get this placed searched before nightfall," Jack put in, bringing any banter to a halt. "We should split up; some of us to the upper floors, others to the bottom."
"What are we even looking for?" Owen asked.
"If I had to guess," the archivist answered, "it would be some sort of metal casket, with a heavy lock on it. Or even a safe. There would be wards around it, so you'd need to be careful approaching it."
"Booby trapped, then?" Suzie questioned. "Sounds like fun."
"Sounds more like we're taking our lives into our own hands on the say-so of Wizard Boy here," the surgeon snarked.
An eyebrow quirked upward before Ianto realized he'd done it. "Wizard boy? Just when I didn't think it could get any worse."
"At least he didn't offer to have sex with us all," Toshiko snickered. "He's done that before, in life or death situations."
"I missed Owen suggesting an orgy?" Jack managed to sound affronted. "When did this happen?"
"Back during that siege with those weird sleeper agents," Toshiko answered. "I forgot you weren't around, Jack."
"Well someone had to act the big hero and save your sorry asses."
"The day I need you to save my ass – " Owen began.
"I notice you didn't refute the "sorry" part," the captain chuckled.
The battle surgeon's outrage broke the ice among the mercenaries; the strain seemed to lift, and they relaxed.
Even though Ianto didn't know what the story was about, he laughed as well, deciding he'd ask later for the full story. He knew it just had to be good.
"I want to take the lower levels," he did say, glancing back up to the tower. He couldn't say what was motivating him, but he had that nagging itch in the back of his head that told him to look underground.
"Then I suggest that Tosh, Owen, and Suzie take the upper floors," Jack said. "Ianto and I will go below, since we've actually been down there once already."
Despite his earlier disagreement with Jack, he was glad that the captain was coming with him. Ianto wanted to salvage what he could of their friendship; although, to be honest, the kiss they'd shared came to mind, and the young man still wanted to have that happen again…and even more. He wondered if there could ever be more.
He hoped so.
"You two don't get too distracted." Owen had to get the last, sarcastic, word in.
Ianto opened his mouth to respond, but Jack beat him to it. "Jealous?" he teased.
He made gagging noises.
"As your second," Suzie added, "I'd have to be the one to inform the Baroness that something happened to the two of you. You can't do that to me, Jack."
"Don't worry. Nothing's gonna happen," the captain answered. "But if you find what we're looking for, come and get us. Ianto's the one more qualified to deal with any sort of traps."
"Of course," the woman nodded. "We won't touch anything we shouldn't."
Ianto returned her nod. Despite the bickering, these people were professionals. He trusted them to do their jobs…and let him do his.
Myfanwy gave a chirp, and he glanced down at her once more. Her head was just under his hand, so Ianto stroked the warm scales, causing her to purr contentedly. Her tail was still twisted about Jack's leg, and the captain caught Ianto's eye as they both took note of the dragon's attentions.
Yes…Ianto wondered just how strong the dragon's empathic bond would be.
In the end, it was actually Suzie who discovered the strange stone on the second floor of the tower.
Truth be told…she might have discovered it, but she didn't, in fact, notice…it was Toshiko and Owen who did, when the weapons' specialist happened to keep stepping around a particular place on the floor. When it occurred the third time, the Elven woman promptly went to fetch Ianto and Jack from the lower level.
Now, Ianto knelt before the strange stone, Jack hovering. Although he knew it was there, the captain couldn't get his eyes to actually look at the place; they kept skittering away, as if needing to look somewhere else. It was quite disconcerting…and it was magic, plain and simple.
Well…maybe not that simple, if the soft cursing that the master archivist was letting escape his lips was any indication.
"I don't think I can break this," Ianto finally admitted, resting back on his haunches and staring at the offending stone as if he wanted to do violence to it.
"Why?" Jack asked softly.
The younger man sighed. "The magic in it's too strong. It's not just the Perception spell – which is a bugger to begin with – but there are at least three levels of Protection and at one of Confusion. They're all playing merry hells with my senses, Jack…I'm just not that powerful."
Jack hated that Ianto was doubting himself. He'd seen just how strong the young man was, back in Gateway. "I think you're not giving yourself enough credit, Ianto. You were able to tap into the Deep Ways to see the past in Gateway – "
"But that was different!" His voice went up, claiming the others' attentions. The other members of Jack's team had been amusing themselves in various ways: Suzie and Owen had been keeping watch from the broken windows; and Toshiko had been sitting on the dusty floor, Myfanwy's head in her lap. The Elf and the dragon were getting along famously, and Jack knew it was because of the woman's close ties with nature…and her friendship with Ianto.
But Ianto's outburst had them all moving toward the kneeling archivist, and Jack knew Ianto didn't really want the notice. "I have confidence that you can break it," he said, clasping the archivist's shoulder.
"Jack, I'm so new at this," Ianto shook his head. "I honestly thought my normal abilities would be enough to handle this. I didn't know we'd be running into a Master Wizard's power. And I'm nowhere near that caliber."
Myfanwy laid her head on Ianto's other shoulder, cooing softly. He reached up and scratched her chin absently. Jack felt the dragon's tail loop around his calf, and he felt grateful that she seemed to have taken such a shine to him.
"But you've broken spells before," the captain answered. "I know you have."
Ianto looked confused. "When do you mean, Jack?"
"Remember Adam, in Haven? You had to have broken his control over you, in order to get away. And then, there's this…" he let his hand travel down Ianto's shoulder, to tap the leather bracer on the archivist's wrist. "You broke that fairly simply, it seems to me."
Ianto's eyebrows drew together. "I…knew it was magic, but I didn't know what kind. I could never read it." There was something hidden in what Ianto didn't say, but Jack let it lay. He thought he knew what it was, and didn't want the rest of the team to hear.
"It was a tracker," Jack admitted. "I gave it to you, in case of trouble."
A smirk played around Ianto's lips. "I shouldn't be surprised, should I, sir?"
Jack was beginning to really like it when he was called "sir" but this wasn't the time or the place. A part of him was saying that anything that happened between him and the archivist would only end in tears; another part was railing at him for being an idiot about it and that he should enjoy it while it lasted.
"Well…maybe not so much," Jack admitted, grinning. "But, as I was saying…you broke that spell. The compass that was the tracer disintegrated, which meant you had to have done something pretty impressive to destroy it."
"And…you think I can do that again?" Ianto sighed. "If it happened while I was in Gateway…hells, Jack, there was so much power in that place…" Then his eyes widened slightly, and the captain could actually see the mind behind them working. "I am an idiot," he rolled his eyes. "There's power here as well…maybe I can tap into that, the same way I did in Gateway…"
The mercenary grinned. "I have faith in you, Ianto."
The grin was returned, and then Ianto went back to his perusal of the stone. Jack took a step back in order to let him work, and moved straight back into his team's cloud of curiosity.
"So," Owen spoke first, "the kid really is a Wizard?"
"He wouldn't lie about a thing like that," Jack answered, smirking. He didn't point out that Ianto wasn't that much younger than the battle surgeon was. But then, compared to Jack himself everyone was a youngster.
"And you've known since Haven?" Suzie demanded.
"Not…really. I've known there was something magical about Ianto for a while now, since before the mission. But, as for him being a Wizard…I suspected since Gateway."
"And you didn't think we might need to know that information?"
"Suzie…it wasn't my place to tell."
"Jack wasn't the only one who knew about Ianto being magical," Toshiko defended. "I…guessed."
Jack looked at her, shaking his head, impressed once more by her. "Of course you did."
"And you might have done the same," the Elf went on, "if you'd bothered to get to know him for more than his coffee."
"Have I told you lately that I love you, Tosh?"
"No, Jack…but I never get tired of hearing it." She blushed in pleasure.
A sudden soft exclamation brought all their attentions back to the young Wizard. As one, they turned to look at him; Ianto had both hands flat on the flooring stone in question…which was glowing slightly, and Jack no longer had the urge to look away from it.
"I think I have the Perception spell cracked," the young man murmured.
"You do," Jack answered. "I can actually look at it now without my eyes wanting to slide away."
Ianto glanced up; his eyes had become eclipses once more, and the other three gasped at the change. "I am able to use into the power woven into the very stones to counteract the magic here." Those eyes looked at Jack, and once again the mercenary wondered just what Ianto could see when he looked at him like that. Jack swallowed hard, and hoped no one noticed.
"I knew you could do it," he smiled softly.
Ianto returned the smile, then went back to his work at unraveling the spells on the stone. It was fascinating, even if there was no way of telling exactly what was going on. It was a pity that there weren't any more Wizards; Jack just knew that, with the proper training, Ianto would be magnificent.
"That was just…creepy," Suzie whispered.
"I think it's great," Toshiko said back.
"You would, Tosh."
The Elf didn't say anything else, but Jack heard her put upon sigh.
A claw scratched at the bottom of Jack's breastplate; he looked down into the intense green eyes of the dragon, and she cocked her head, chirping happily at him. Then she looked toward Suzie, and the hiss Myfanwy gave made her displeasure known.
"Do we have to have that…thing here?" Owen snapped.
"She's not a thing," Toshiko snapped back. That got her a coo from Myfanwy.
"I think I might have it," Ianto's soft voice interrupted what might have become a full-blown argument.
They all turned toward the archivist. He was still crouched down, but the stone he'd been touching was moving downward into the floor with a grinding noise.
"Very well done," Jack said, watching the floor suddenly gain a very dark hole. "Any idea what's down there?"
"If I had to guess…some sort of vault or safe." Ianto glanced around for his pack; swearing when he saw it across the room. Before he could get it, Myfanwy scuttled over and grabbed it in one claw, dragging it over to her master. Ianto thanked her, giving her a quick rub, then he began rummaging around inside.
His hand came back out, holding the light globe he'd used before. It lit, and he bent over just enough to thrust it into the darkness under the floor.
Jack and the others gathered around, hoping to catch some glimpse into what lay under their feet. Jack's eyes tried to adjust, but he couldn't see anything. "Is it empty?" he asked, disappointed.
"No, I think it's deeper than it should be." The globe flickered slightly, then began to radiate more light. "I think…there's an entire room down there."
"That's not possible, Wizard Boy," Owen snorted.
"Then your idea of possible and whoever made this' idea of possible are two entirely different things," the archivist snarked back.
Jack had heard of such a thing, from Master John…magic creating a space bigger on the inside than how it appeared from outside. What had he called it? Oh yeah…dimensional transcendentalism. "Any sort of ladder or stairs or something we can use to get down there?"
Ianto used the globe to search around. "No…wait, there's a ladder."
"All right." Jack turned to his team. "Ianto and I are going down. Keep a lookout up here, and don't hesitate to shout if you need us."
"Better you two than us," Suzie huffed. Owen looked glad to be left out as well, but Toshiko seemed disappointed.
"Keep an eye on Myfanwy for me, Toshiko?" Ianto asked, turning his now-normal eyes toward the Elven woman. "I don't want to take her down there with us."
"Sure, Ianto. Be glad to." She looked pleased; Myfanwy scooted over to her, rubbing her snout under Toshiko's hand.
"I'm going down first," Jack said, making sure his sword was at hand. "Ianto, you follow me with the light, all right?"
He did an actual double-take. "What?"
"There could be some sort of magical trap down there, Jack," the archivist answered. "It makes more sense for me to go first, to detect any sort of magic you might step into."
"It's too dangerous."
"More for you, than for me."
Jack clenched his jaw. He didn't dare point out that any sort of trap there might be, could be deadly…and he'd just come back. If Ianto tripped something, then that would be the end. And, despite their disagreements Jack wasn't ready to lose him yet.
Ianto seemed to get what Jack was thinking, because he smiled reassuringly. "I'll be fine. Don't worry about me."
But Jack did worry. He couldn't help it. But this was the reason he'd insisted on Ianto coming along in the first place – at least, the major reason and not the personal one – and that was even before all the revelations of the last weeks. The captain had to trust him.
"After you, then." He made a fairly camp bow, swishing his cloak around him. Ianto simply rolled his eyes, then tucked his pack over his shoulder and headed down into the darkness.
Jack sat down on the floor, his legs dangling over the lip of the hole. "Keep your eyes open, you three. If anything happens – "
"We'll give a shout," Suzie reassured him. "Just go and get this done."
"Yeah," Owen added. "We wanna get paid for this shit."
The captain gave his team a jaunty wink, then followed Ianto.
About ten foot down the ladder, Ianto realized just how glad he was that he'd gone first.
Sure…Jack was immortal. That meant that any traps might kill him, but he'd come back. The problem Ianto had with that was this: if it was some sort of perpetual trap, then Jack might get stuck in it forever, and dying over and over again wasn't something he would wish on anyone. And, to be quite honest with himself, he didn't really want the captain to die once, let alone multiple times. Jack might shrug it off, but to Ianto it was obvious that being dragged back to life wasn't a pleasant experience.
Therefore, when he saw the strange, squiggly writing on the wall just as he was passing the ten-foot mark, Ianto let out a breath he hadn't even been aware that he'd been holding.
"Jack," he called up to the mercenary, "stop."
"What is it?" came the echoing question.
"I think we have a trap here. Hold up for a second and I'll try to disarm it."
Ianto was glad that Jack didn't answer; knowing the man, he would probably have offered to trip the thing just to get things moving. Maybe he should nickname him Captain Lemming…
He leaned forward, lifting the light globe. It was the same, looping writing that had been on the original scroll, but this was carved directly into the stone. Ianto was beginning to think that this was some sort of Wizard dialect, and not what he'd first believed, back at the castle. He needed his glasses…
Doing some strange contortions in order to keep himself from falling off the ladder, Ianto managed to dig the magical spectacles from his pack. He slid them on then, taking a deep breath, he blinked.
The writing swam in his vision, twisting and turning as if it didn't want to be read. Ianto had had the same problem with the scroll; it had taken him weeks to figure out what it said, and now he recognized that the language hadn't wanted to be deciphered. No…that wasn't it. Whoever came up with this particular alphabet made it for a small group of beings, and normal mortals weren't meant to know Wizard secrets.
Which meant…that even though he'd had trouble at first translating it, something within him had been opened to this language. It had just taken time for his mind to catch up with his magical senses.
Ianto shivered. It was now apparent that he'd always been on this path. But it had been traveling with Jack and his mercenaries for him to begin to regain his heritage.
He turned his attention back to the carving on the room's wall. As he focused on it, the curling strands resolved themselves into something he could read:
Only a Wizard can enter here. To be anything else, is to put yourself at peril.
"Jack, you have to go back up," Ianto ordered. "You can't come any further."
"What do you see?" the mercenary asked, with that familiar inflection Ianto had gotten used to.
"It's a warning. Only a Wizard is allowed to come into the room. Anyone else is in danger."
Jack was silent for a moment. "No way am I letting you go down there on your own, Ianto."
The archivist felt warmth spread through his chest at Jack's protectiveness, even as he felt slightly bothered by the idea that the captain didn't trust Ianto to take care of himself. "You're going to have to. There are bound to be wards and spells that will detect if a person is a Wizard or not."
"I'm sure you can deactivate it or something."
There was that warm feeling again, this time at Jack's confidence in his abilities. He stifled the sigh that was threatening to escape. "Stay up there, I'll see what I can do."
Not waiting for the immortal to reply, Ianto started back down the ladder. There was a small, gibbering voice at the back of his head that insisted he wouldn't pass muster either, that he wasn't really a Wizard and that something really bad was going to happen…
He wasn't at all relieved when his feet hit the stone floor.
Ianto lifted the globe, letting the light grow until he could see into every corner of the room. It was more like a wardrobe; it was about six paces long, and half that wide. The strong smell of leather and mustiness hit him, forcibly reminding him of the Archives and making him a little homesick. He pushed that thought back, instead trying to concentrate on what was around him.
It almost resembled some sort of jumble. A single shelf was taken up by all sorts of books and scrolls, along with various types of bric-a-brac. A small table held a metal box, banded in another form of metal and locked with what looked like a padlock but had no obvious keyhole. A rack held what looked like robes, all very ostentatious and not at all Ianto's style.
Ianto could feel the intense itching at the back of his skull, recognizing the magic wanting to escape. He let it, and as the power obscured his own normal vision it was so much easier to see.
Gods, even he was emphasizing that word now…
Even as that crossed his mind, he dismissed it, caught up in what he was being shown.
Almost everything in the room had some sort of magic about it.
Ianto was drawn to the shelves, running his fingers across the books; the magical glasses were automatically translating everything he saw, and he mentally catalogued the titles away for future consideration. Most seemed to be basic science and magical texts; there were a few though, that appeared to be some sort of fiction. There was one, though, that didn't have anything written on the spine; that one tingled even before Ianto touched it, and the itching was so strong it seemed about to drive him mad.
Jack's voice brought him back from his perusal of the shelves. He turned back toward the ladder; the captain was staring down at him, looking concerned.
He shook himself. "Just a moment."
It was with regret that Ianto went back to the ladder, looking for some sort of sign as to what sort of traps there were in the room. The magic kept calling to him, and it was difficult not to answer that call. But he also knew that, if he didn't get his mind back on task, then Jack would have come down into the room, no matter the warning. And the last thing Ianto wanted was for the mercenary to be in danger.
The trap was almost too simple to find. It was two more enchanted paving stones, just under the ladder. Ianto knelt before them, running his already charged fingertips over the blocks, sensing out what they were. His eyes widened in horror.
"What is it?"
He looked up at Jack, swallowing hard. "It…it's a Disintegration spell. Whoever steps on two of these stones...ceases to exist."
"Gods," Jack breathed. "I'm not even sure I'd come back from that…can you dispel it somehow?"
Ianto put his hands on one of the stones, probing carefully. He could sense the Disintegration spell easily; it made him almost physically sick, and he felt he could pick it apart, given enough power. He was fascinated by the Recognition magic, wanting to know just how the magic could tell if one was a Wizard or not. As far as he could tell, it had something to do with blood and family, but beyond that he couldn't see. It would be a puzzle for another time. Right now, he had to figure out how to get Jack past this trap and into the room.
"I hate to hurry you," the captain murmured, "but it's getting a bit uncomfortable hanging from this ladder."
Ianto resisted rolling his eyes at the comment, instead focusing on the stone under his hands. Even though the spell was terrible, it was beautiful to see: the patterns of the magic woven into the block itself, a deep blackness that twisted around the very essence of the stone itself. Ianto knew the theories of Matter, and with this newly improved vision he could see that those theories were correct, for the most part. It made him mourn the loss of knowledge that the dying out of the Wizards had caused.
He raised a hand from the stone, using his fingers to pick apart the threads of the spell. It was as if he were back in his father's shop, helping the elder Jones by picking out seams from clothes the Master Tailor would alter. He found himself falling back into the power of the tower itself; once he'd figured out how to tap into that, the work was somewhat easier. But it was still leaving him with a headache resting just behind his eyes.
Once one stone was done, he scooted over to the second one. As he was laying hands on it, he spoke, "You can come down, but stay on the stone I just cleansed. I wouldn't want you to find out if you resurrect from disintegration."
"Like I said," Jack answered, doing as Ianto bid, "I don't think even the Deathless curse would keep me from dying from that sort of thing."
Ianto felt a hand on his shoulder; he was so open to the magic that he could feel the tingling that the Deep Ways that kept Jack Deathless even through his tunic. He glanced up at the captain, and once again saw the golden glow about him, looping strands erupting from his body to fall back into the main mass of the magic.
"What do you see," Jack asked softly, "when you look at me?"
"I see…" the archivist cleared his throat, "I see a glowing, ethereal being that doesn't deserve to be trapped, world-bound. I see an angel."
He turned back to what he was doing, blinking away the spots that looking at Jack with his sight caused. He began plucking at the strands of the black magic, stifling a sudden shudder at how wrong it felt to his hands. The memory of what the scroll had said about the Wizard who'd wanted to find some way to destroy Jack came back to him; that he'd thought the Deathless was an abomination. But the Wizard had been mistaken, because Jack was anything but that. Ianto's skin thrummed with Jack's Deathlessness, it breathed against him like the wind. It was the Deep Magic, a power that he instinctively knew was as wild and terrible and breath-taking as a tempest at sea. A force of nature that no one had the right to control.
But Ianto could. He could feel it within himself as well, a match to the power that inhabited Jack. It was then, as he knelt and unpicked a magic so foul it made him ill, that the archivist finally concluded that he and Jack had always been meant to meet. That magic drew like to like, that the very thing that had kept the captain alive so long after when he should have passed beyond was exactly what now possessed himself. It had taken feeling such unnaturalness to know just how natural both of them were.
He wanted to tell Jack. He was almost desperate to, but in a heartbeat he knew he didn't have the right. Ianto was Torchwood, and always would be. Jack was a free spirit, traveling the world and never settling down in one place for too long. What Ianto was feeling could never be explained.
And so, he kept silent, simply reveling in the feeling of Jack's hand on his shoulder, as he destroyed the black Wizard's spell.
It didn't take too long. When he was done, he stood, blinking back his magical vision. He could see Jack's face properly now, and the expression on it tugged his heart.
"You really see that?" he asked.
"Yes, Jack…I do." Ianto retrieved the light globe and his pack from the floor where he'd left them. He wanted to avoid meeting the mercenary's gaze, so he took another look around the room. "This place is a treasure trove of magic," he changed the subject. "Ideally, we should take everything with us, but there's no way we'll get it all out of here."
"Let's…just concentrate on the Glove and the Dagger for now." Jack seemed to accept the change of subject, taking his own look around.
"I think it's in the metal casket. That makes the most sense, since they would be the most powerful Artifacts present."
The immortal examined the lock intently. "You have a way into it?"
"I'll have to work on it," Ianto admitted. "I've never tried to open a padlock that didn't have a keyhole."
"I'm sure you can do it."
There was that confidence again. Ianto wanted to bask in it, but couldn't take the time. He passed the globe to Jack, directing him to hold it so he could see what he was doing properly, then called the magic back to him once more.
It proved a little more difficult than he'd thought; his head was beginning to ache from using his power so much, and it distracted him a bit. But he did manage to discover a way to manipulate the strange lock. It popped open with an audible click, and even as Ianto was pushing the magic away he was removing the lock and pushing the box's lid up.
There, nestled within a bed of black fabric, was what they'd come all this way to find.
The Gauntlet of Resurrection and the Dagger of Darkness.
Jack didn't know what he'd expected when the metal chest opened, but this wasn't quite it.
The Gauntlet of Resurrection looked just like an old-fashioned armored glove, even down to the joint rivets and a few visible hammer marks from the metalsmith who'd forged it. It looked normal…completely and totally normal. There was even a bit of rust on the gauntlet's thumb.
It was the Dagger though that really drew his attention.
The weapon just looked wrong. From the long, hooked blade, up to the twin smaller blades set at angles near the dark hilt, it simply reeked of evil. Jack shivered convulsively, drawing his cloak a little tighter around his shoulders, and fought the urge to step away.
He felt Ianto echo his shiver. Jack glanced at the archivist; he, too, was staring down at the Artifacts, his brows drawn down and a frown twisting his lips. The mercenary wondered what was going through the younger man's mind, and before he realized he'd asked just that.
"It's…not right," came the soft reply. "I don't know what sort of magic went into empowering the Dagger, but it's not right. The Gauntlet…I'm not sure about it, but the Dagger definitely is bad. Very bad. It should never have been made."
Jack rested a hand on Ianto's shoulder, partially in support, but also because he needed the contact for some reason he couldn't fathom. "We'll get it locked away, so no one has access to it."
The archivist sighed. "I…don't even want to touch it, just to transport it to Cardiff."
"I can do it – "
"No, Jack. If the stories are true, and either Artifact can kill you for real…" Ianto shook his head. "I don't want to take the risk." He glanced up at Jack, his eyes questioning. "Unless…you want to die? Do you, Jack? You never did answer me, when I asked you before…"
He'd really hoped that Ianto wouldn't bring that up again. He drew in a deep breath, meeting that gaze. "Honestly?" He was surprised at the strange crack on the word.
Ianto only raised a single eyebrow, and that simple expression urged Jack on.
"Honestly," he repeated it, and this time he sounded pretty normal, "there was a time when yes, I did want to die. Thinking of all the long millennia that stretched out in front of me, knowing I had no escape from this existence…yes, I would have given anything to know there was something out there that would end this curse."
"And now?" There was nothing but sympathetic calm in Ianto's blue eyes, and Jack wanted to suddenly lose himself within them.
"Now…I've come to terms with it." He shrugged, trying to convey that it wasn't a big deal, even though he was pretty sure that the younger man saw completely through it. "I won't lie to you…if there was a way to take this away from me, I'd most likely sell my soul to do it. But I don't want to truly die to do it. I want to live a normal life, but I know that will never happen." He shrugged once more, giving Ianto a small smile, hoping that the archivist would believe him this time.
Ianto was silent for a few heartbeats, then he gently laid a hand on Jack's arm. "Just remember something, Jack…you're not alone. I might not completely understand what you're going through, but I will be there if you need me to be." He cleared his throat. "Now, let's get these safely back to the castle. I won't feel good until they're under lock and key."
Jack wanted to tell him just how much his vow had meant to him, but he was simply unable to get the words out. It had been so very long since anyone had been privy to Jack's true nature, that he'd been the inspiration behind all those tales the troubadours loved to tell. But the stories never matched the realty, and they never could. To have someone offer to be there…it was a gift, and one that he wasn't sure the younger man knew he was actually giving.
Instead of speaking, Jack pulled the archivist toward him and thanked him the only way he really knew how. He pressed his lips against Ianto's, his hand curving around the other man's neck to hold him close. Ianto stiffened for a moment, then relaxed into the embrace, letting his mouth fall open to let Jack's tongue inside.
Jack put every bit of gratitude he felt into the kiss, hoping that Ianto would understand what he was trying to say. He felt an arm go around his waist, pulling him in closer; a low moan thrummed through the captain's mouth, and he echoed the sound as Ianto's own tongue returned the caresses that were being lavished upon it. Where they were didn't matter anymore; only this, this closeness between them, yet one more thing that Jack hadn't experienced in so very long.
A sudden cooing noise broke through the haze that had settled over Jack's thoughts; he reluctantly broke away from the younger man, to glance toward the opening into the room above. Myfanwy's red-gold head was poking through the hole, her green eyes sparkling. "We have an audience," Jack whispered, grinning.
Ianto briefly touched Jack's forehead with his own, then turned to look at the dragon. "Of course we do." He gently pulled back, and Jack almost mourned the loss of the contact. "At least it's not one of your team; now that would have been embarrassing."
"You two okay down there?" Toshiko's head joined Myfanwy's, a knowing smirk on her face.
Jack sighed. "We're fine," he reported, if only to avoid anyone coming down and getting a closer look at Ianto's now-blushing features. "We've found what we're looking for, and will be back up shortly."
"If you need any help…"
"No, we're fine, Tosh."
"All right, Jack. " The Elf winked, then pulled her head back out of the hole. One of her hands tugged on Myfanwy's horn, pulling the dragon back up with her. There was an almost disgusted-sounding noise from the creature as she, too, vanished.
"Remind me never to say anything like that again; it was like she heard me," Ianto said, shaking his head.
Jack chuckled. "The next time, we need a more private place."
"You sound pretty confident about there being a next time."
"Well, you did promise…"
The archivist smiled. "I did, didn't I?"
"And you did say you never break your promises."
Something crossed Ianto's face for a moment, dimming his smile. "No, I never break my promises, Jack. Trust that."
"I do." The mercenary did, it wasn't just empty words. "Now, let's get the hells out of here."
Ianto nodded. He closed up the box, snapping the magical padlock back into place. "I think the best thing to do is carry these already sealed up. I know the box is going to be heavy – "
"But we don't want anyone to really risk touching either Artifact."
"Agreed. It's not that I don't trust your team…"
"I understand." Jack just couldn't be certain what sort of influence the things would have on anyone. "I remember you saying the Gauntlet at least could become addictive if used."
"So, you were paying attention, and not just looking at my arse."
"It's a nice arse to look at, though," Jack leered.
The archivist rolled his eyes. "If you say so."
"Oh, I do…" Jack reached over to pat said arse to make his point.
"Mind and hand back on topic, please." He said it harshly, but there was an undertone of playfulness that made Jack grin. "Let's get this out of here."
He used the box's handles in order to get leverage, then lifted the heavy metal chest onto his shoulder. Jack staggered a bit under the weight but managed to balance it. "After you?"
Ianto shook his head. "Show off."
"I don't show off…do I?"
"Just a bit."
Jack smirked. "But you love it."
"If you say so."
Ianto headed back to the ladder, climbing up it easily. He heard the younger man call for the others as Jack was positioning himself under the opening in the floor, tipping his head back and waiting as patiently as he could with a very heavy metal chest sitting on his shoulder. It was dark down there, without the light globe that Ianto had taken with him. "Anytime now," he called upward, putting a bored tone in the words.
"Keep your trousers on, Harkness," Owen's voice pitched down toward him. The surgeon's head appeared above, cutting off some of the light filtering down from the hole. "Wizard boy is getting the rope from Suzie, and we'll haul it up that way."
"His name is Ianto, Owen."
"And your point is?"
"On the top of my head, apparently," the mercenary said under his breath. He knew it was Owen's way, to belittle people and generally be a sarcastic bastard, but there was something about his attitude toward Ianto that irritated the Captain. However, he also knew that Ianto could take care of himself, and the archivist wouldn't appreciate Jack fighting his battles for him.
Feet hit the ladder; it was Ianto, and Jack was getting an extremely nice view. "You've just made my day," he quipped as he watched that pert arse descending toward him.
The younger man was quiet for a heartbeat. "Keep your mind on business, sir."
Jack was realizing that Ianto calling him "sir" was fast becoming another fetish in the captain's varied repertoire. "How many times do I have to ask you to call me Jack?" He couldn't help but bite back the chuckle that threatened to escape, but the amused tone remained.
"As many times as it takes apparently," was the answer, amusement equally noticeable in Ianto's reply. He climbed down just far enough to reach the box. "I'm going to tie this rope off to one of the handles, and then Owen and I can pull it up."
"Sounds like a plan. It's getting a bit heavy. I might need someone to massage my shoulder when we get this moved."
"I'll ask Suzie if she's available."
"Ouch, that just hurts, Ianto."
While Jack couldn't see what Ianto was doing, he could feel the chest moving a bit. He adjusted his stance, to allow for the change in balance.
"Then perhaps Owen would be a better choice, if it's causing you pain."
"No, thank you."
"I'm sure he'll be glad to hear that…sir."
The mercenary was beginning to suspect that Ianto knew about his "sir" kink, since he'd only say it in certain situations. "As a battle surgeon, Owen makes a really good cook."
There was a snort, and Ianto said, "And you hired him?"
"It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"Oi, you two!" Owen's sharp voice echoed down toward them, "Quit snarking about me and get on with it."
"It's tied off," Ianto answered. "Coming back up now."
And with that, he was gone back up the ladder, leaving Jack to wait in the dark. He was tempted to fidget, but didn't want to unbalance the chest.
There was a jerk on the box, and suddenly much of the weight was gone from Jack's shoulder. He guided it with his hand, until it was far enough away to let him climb the ladder as well. Jack made sure it cleared the hole, and once it was sliding up over the paving stone he swarmed up after it, and back into the sunlit room beyond. He was glad to be back into the open, and out of the cluttered closet; Jack wasn't claustrophobic by any stretch of the imagination, but it had been getting a little too close for him down there, and he hadn't really noticed how bad it had been until he'd emerged.
There was a change in the atmosphere in the above room as well; the oppressiveness had dissipated a little, and Jack had to wonder if the change was because of Ianto's use of the power that had enchanted the tower for so long. He'd had to tap into that in order to find the store room and to disable the trap, and that had to have had some effect on it.
Jack was surprised at how quickly Ianto seemed to be taking to the magic, and he had to wonder just how powerful the young man would be if he had the proper training. It was too bad that that wasn't going to happen, but there was nothing to do about it. Ianto would have to learn on his own, and Jack sincerely hoped that wouldn't cripple his growth into his abilities.
"We came all this way for that?" Owen groused.
The rest of the team was gathered around the metal chest, looking at it with varying shades of curiosity. Suzie was actually stroking the lid, and something about the gesture was eerily intimate. It caused a shudder to run down Jack's spine, and he was horribly grateful that no one could get past the magical lock to the Artifacts within.
"We'll get it tied to the pack horse, and then head back to Cardiff first thing in the morning," Jack said, not acknowledging Owen's comment. "The sooner that's under lock and key, the better I'll feel about it."
"Amen," Ianto echoed softly. "I'm going to reset the trap and close up the hole. I don't want anyone coming back and stumbling onto this. There are too many things down there that can cause trouble."
"Shouldn't we take it all with us, then?" Toshiko asked.
"I'd love to," the young man answered, "but there's too much. I'll come back with a wagon and escort later and clear it all out for the Archives. These are the worst of the bunch, so we need to take care of them first."
"I'm sure I can convince the Baroness to send us with you," Jack murmured.
Ianto didn't say anything; he simply smiled and nodded in thanks. He headed back down into the hole, leaving the others to wrestle with the heavy chest. Jack almost didn't want him to go alone, but recognized that anyone down there would be in danger from the Disintegration spell once it was back in place.
"It's going to rain," Toshiko commented. Myfanwy seemed to echo her with a trilling sound that climbed the musical scale.
Jack glanced toward the broken window; while he completely trusted the Elven woman's intuition about the weather, he still wanted to see for himself. Indeed, there were clouds building up on the horizon, and it was with a bit of hesitation that he said, "We might want to think about staying in the tower tonight, then. Less likely for us to get drenched."
"Lovely," Owen sighed.
Jack ignored him. "The Perception spell around the tower has faded a bit; Tosh, you think we can get the horses into the entryway?"
"Maybe," she answered. "I can try it."
"Good. Then let's get our gear from the camp, and move in downstairs. Owen, Suzie…gather enough firewood to get us through the night. I'll yell down at Ianto and tell him the plan. And step carefully: we don't want a repeat of what happened to Ianto and me. I'd hate to have to rescue any of you from a sudden fall into the underground levels."
His team moved off to perform their tasks. Jack sighed, somehow knowing that it was going to be a long night.
This chapter is Explicit, so be warned.
They managed to get everything from camp into the large central hall of the tower before the storm hit in earnest.
Thunder echoed through the stone hall; wind whistled and invaded the room from the broken windows, the sounds disturbing the horses as they stood, hobbled, farther back and near the stairs. Toshiko had finally taken pity on the beasts, and had resorted to blindfolding them, which seemed to calm them down somewhat.
Ianto's mucking about with the tower's Perception spell had, indeed, seemed to diminish its affect on them. Once Suzie and Toshiko got the impromptu fire pit up and a nice blaze started, an almost comfortable atmosphere pervaded their camp. Ianto helped with dinner, and made them their evening coffee fix, much to Owen's happiness – or what passed for happiness in the battle surgeon, which was a slight lessening of sarcasm. Jack shared more stories over the meal, and Ianto was once again left with the impression that the mercenary was making up more than was actually truthful.
But then, how can one judge when the storyteller had over a thousand years' worth of experiences to fall back on?
The storm seemed to rage on, as the group cleaned up after their meal and readied themselves for bed. Ianto was tired, and his head was hurting from the strain of using his new-found powers so much; but he found himself pottering around the makeshift camp, and it was when he'd gone to get an armload of the firewood they'd managed to gather, that he was startled by an unexpectedly serious Owen.
"I don't like that thing."
Ianto glanced in the direction the other man was indicating; the metal casket sat just beyond the firelight, the gloom surrounding it like a shroud. "At least you didn't see the Artifacts inside," he commented softly. "You'd like it even less."
"It…makes my teeth itch," Owen continued. "Like it's somehow watching me."
The archivist wondered if the man had some sort of sensitivity to magic, but dismissed the notion. The surgeon had good instincts, and was most likely picking up his and Jack's unease over it. "It's…not right," he confessed. "The Gauntlet seems harmless, but the Dagger…it's dangerous. It needs to be locked away so no one can ever get to it again."
"We can't just drop it back into its hole and leave it?"
Ianto shook his head. "It may have stayed safe for this long, but I don't trust that it will for much longer. Someone knows what we're after."
"The spells around the room wouldn't be enough?" Toshiko asked, coming to join them.
"You saw how easy it was to actually find the paving stone. Anyone paying the least bit of attention is going to notice someone avoiding that particular section of floor. Besides, I wasn't able to reset the trap. It…was beyond me." He was still irritated with himself, yet at the same time Ianto knew he had limits, and casting such spells was simply something he didn't have the experience with. Plus the very darkness of the magic disturbed him almost as much as the presence of the Dagger. "It's not safe to leave them here."
"It's...creepy," the Elf said, her voice dropping. "Just looking at the chest sends a shiver down my spine."
"Suzie seems to like it, though," Owen added. "But then she's always liked sharp objects. Guess that extends to ones she can't even see."
Ianto had noticed Suzie's somewhat strange behavior around the box. She'd often touch or stroke the lid, and her blank expression was even more disturbing than looking inside the actual chest.
"From what you've said," Toshiko said, "the Gauntlet is said to be somewhat addictive. What about the Dagger?"
"If I had to guess…then I'd have to say it would be, from what the scroll says it can do. There's nothing that states it outright, though."
The woman shivered. "I can't understand why someone would make an object that can actually steal souls."
Ianto didn't know, either. And it bothered him.
The mercenaries settled down for the night, curled up in their bedrolls as the storm still lashed the stone around them.
Ianto couldn't sleep. He tossed and turned, finding the floor under him more uncomfortable than the ground outside. The wind that blew through the entry hall was cold, and he burrowed under his blanket in order to keep warm. The archivist did a quick calculation, and realized that it would be winter soon. They would be back in Cardiff before the worst of the weather hit, unless there was some delay…
No, he didn't want to think that. He still didn't have any clue as to why John Hart had come after him, had kidnapped him and had thought he could get money for the Artifacts. His only goal was to get those to Cardiff, where they could be locked up in the lowest of the Secure Archives, and never brought into the light of day again.
The young man sighed. He didn't want to lie there any longer; his mind wouldn't let him rest and he felt like he needed to be doing something. Ianto sat up, glancing around at his companions; they all looked to be asleep, although from Owen's snoring it was obvious that at least one of them was out for the night. He sighed again, throwing the blanket off.
Myfanwy's head lifted; the dragon had been curled up nearest the fire, and the flames glittered in her red scales as if her skin itself was on fire. She chirped quietly, looking at him with those intelligent green eyes, waiting to see what he was going to do.
He smiled softly at her. "Stay here," he mouthed, hoping she would hear him.
She apparently did; her head went back down into her front paws, her eyes closing once more. Ianto couldn't believe how much he loved the dragon, in just the short day he'd had her. The dragon already seemed as if she'd been a part of his life forever.
He rose to his feet, gathering his pack and his blanket with him. Ianto had seen a door deeper within the tower, when they'd been setting up camp; that would be a good place to set himself up for the night, so he wouldn't disturb anyone.
The stones were cold against his socked feet as he padded toward the door he'd found. He passed the horses, being careful not to frighten them even more than they already were. A loud crash of thunder growled through the sky like a bear hunting for its dinner, and the accompanying flash of lightning illuminated the archivist's way through the tower. He was at his destination before the afterglow faded, and he hoped that the door wouldn't squeal too much as he pushed it open.
It didn't, and Ianto found himself in darkness beyond. Rifling though his pack, he found his light globe and activated it, sending the brilliant beams searching to every corner.
It must have been some sort of parlor or audience room. A large fireplace dominated one wall, and on the opposite what looked like large blanks spaces that must have once held portraits of some sort, judging from the lighter square and rectangular patches that marked their former places. One small picture remained, but was so covered in grime that it was impossible to see what it had once been of. As with the room belowground, this one was in a horrible state of decay, although there was so much more dust and dirt than below. Ianto thought it was because of the broken window, high in the wall, that had let the filth in.
He pushed the door shut behind him, then found the clearest section of floor available. It was beside the fireplace, and Ianto wished that he could light a fire within the large space. He didn't dare; there was no telling what was up inside the chimney, and he didn't want something coming out after him, dislodged by hot air.
Instead, he lay his blanket down on the cold floor, then sat with his back against the wall. It was slightly warmer in the room, since the window was a bit smaller and farther up on the wall. He thought he might be a bit comfortable there, for the time it took for him to get tired enough to sleep.
He got into his pack again, pulling out a pair of books. One was the book he'd bought in Haven: Fantastical Tales; the second was the unmarked tome he'd pulled from the magical room upstairs. Both puzzled him greatly, and hoped he could exhaust himself trying to work them out in order to sleep later.
Ianto picked up Fantastical Tales first. It brought the familiar tingle to his fingers as he opened the cover. He'd not had much chance to look at it before, and he doubted he'd solve much of anything in this dank tower, but it gave his mind something to chew on.
It looked like a normal book of children's stories, written in the common speech. Ianto glanced at the title for the first chapter: "The Golems of Sontara", and as he began reading he found himself caught up in the tale of a Wizard and his human companions trying to defeat a magical golem set in its mission to gather information on the kingdom in order for another in invade. The second story, "The Great Ark", was even more interesting: the same Wizard from the first chapter, along with his companions, trying to save a great collection of animals and plants from a devouring monster. It was almost like sitting at his Gran's knee once more, listening as she wove her words into imaginative sagas of Wizards battling evil and making the world safe for normal people.
He was deep into the third chapter, "The Revenge of the Metal Men" when a soft chuckle drew his attention from the book and up toward the door, his heart hammering at the surprising interruption.
Jack stood there, his arms crossed over his chest, the amused look on his handsome face somewhat obscured by the shadows beyond the light globe. "You looked so cute, sitting there," he murmured, coming toward the archivist, "that I didn't want to bother you."
Ianto bristled. "I am not cute, and I'm offended that you see me that way…sir."
A look passed through Jack's eyes, and it just fueled the younger man's notion that him calling the captain "sir" was no longer just a term of respect for the immortal.
"You should be sleeping," the mercenary said, coming to stand next to Ianto.
"Couldn't," he answered.
"So you decided leaving camp would be a good idea?" Jack slid down beside him, and Ianto could feel the other man's body warm against his shoulder and arm.
"Myfanwy was there," he pointed out, trying to ignore the immortal's closeness. "You could see she wasn't distressed or anything."
"True. Which is why I didn't wake everyone up and send out the search parties for you." He glanced at the book. "So…whatcha reading?"
Ianto was almost insanely glad that Jack had come to look for him, even though there had been no sign of him being in trouble. "It's a book I picked up in Haven," he explained.
"I remember that. You were clutching onto it like it was a lifeline, back when I found you after Smith's attack on you."
"Well…yeah, I bought it in Haven. But it was because it had a Perception spell on it, and I couldn't figure out why. I still can't since it seems to just be a book of children's tales."
"What about the other book?"
Ianto turned to regard the second book, where he'd put it down on the blanket near his legs. "I…took that one from the room upstairs. I think…I think it's a gramaryia. "
"That would make sense," Jack said. "Where else would a Wizard keep his spell book but in a secret room with a lethal trap on it?"
Ianto nodded, his fingers itching to stroke the cover of the supposed gramaryia. "My only worry is that its magic is in a direction I don't want to go. Judging from the spells he'd put around the tower, plus his ownership of the Gauntlet and Dagger…I can't help but think he was a dark Wizard. And honestly, Jack…that's not what I want to learn."
"But I do know you have the sense to know what spells you can and cannot use."
There it was…that confidence Jack seemed to have in him. He looked at the immortal; the mercenary was looking at him, and their faces were so close…
Ianto didn't know who moved first, but suddenly Jack's lips were on his and their tongues were exploring each other's mouths.
The magic was there; somewhere in the back of his mind Ianto wondered if Jack could feel it, too…that tingling on his tongue and palate like he'd just taken a drink of the best sparkling wine. He moaned as the kiss deepened and became more passionate, the book he'd been holding tossed aside in order for Ianto to pull Jack closer and tangle his fingers in the older man's hair. Jack turned so his hands could cup Ianto's face, stroking the archivist's cheekbones and the delicious tingling followed that soft touch…
Ianto didn't know how long they sat there, only that the kiss seemed to go from passionate to soft and then back again. They only pulled apart when air became a necessity, only to start again until the next time they needed to part. During one such time Ianto found that Jack had somehow straddled his thighs, trapping the younger man under his weight. Ianto didn't mind; he slid his hands down to Jack's waist, tugging him a bit closer and glad the other man had removed all his armor for the night.
He gasped as the mercenary moved farther up Ianto's lap, his groin rubbing against Ianto's burgeoning erection. Gods, he'd never been this aroused before in his life; not even when they'd lay on the floor after capturing Myfanwy. He wanted Jack, in ways he'd never wanted anyone before. He'd tried to fight against the attraction, but it had been impossible.
Jack finally pulled even further away, looking at Ianto as if trying to see into his soul. His normally bright blue eyes were dark with desire, yet at the same time he seemed to be uncertain of how to proceed. "Ianto…" he whispered, running his thumb along the archivist's lower lip.
Jack actually growled at that, his mouth darting forward to nuzzle at Ianto's neck. He tilted his head to give him more access, letting out a moan when the captain hit a particularly erogenous zone. "I've wanted this…Gods, I've needed this…" he murmured into Ianto's ear, and all he could do was moan again in response.
Fingers were working at the buttons of Ianto's tunic, and the younger man returned the favor, deftly opening Jack's shirt even as the other man was leaving what he was doing to the archivist's neck and moving downward at each bit of bared flesh he found. When Jack reached a nipple, Ianto arched up, gasping in pleasure as that mouth nipped and licked the sensitive nub, and it was all Ianto could do not to buck the other man off.
He managed to get Jack's shirt off, and he ran his hands down the mercenary's well-muscled back, and down to the waistband of the trousers. Ianto tugged Jack forward once again, wordlessly encouraging him to continue.
Which Jack obliged.
The immortal's strong fingers were working at the buttons of Ianto's flies, knuckles grazing the archivist's erection every time he moved. Ianto was beginning to pant as his cock was finally released from the very tight trousers, and it took Jack no time at all to put a hand inside and stroke him lightly.
"Please, Jack…" Ianto was practically begging, even as his own hands began their work at Jack's waist. If he was honest with himself – and really, he was too far gone not to be – he would have known this wasn't exactly where he'd hoped his first sexual experience with a man would have been, on a dirty floor in a nearly demolished tower during a thunderstorm. But this was Jack, and despite any sort of denial he might make out loud and to anyone who might listen, he'd been attracted to him for a very long time.
Somehow Jack got the younger man's trousers and underwear off, and as Ianto was trying to do the same the immortal pulled away just enough and leaned over, his mouth suddenly on Ianto's cock.
That sensation pretty much destroyed any form of coherent thought he might have had. There was only Jack and the pressure on his legs and the warm heat of his mouth and nothing else mattered…
He was able to wonder if this was what it was like to be driven mad, and if so then Ianto would take madness any time.
He tried to thrust his hips up, but Jack held onto his hips, keeping Ianto still. There were noises coming from the archivist's mouth, but they certainly weren't translatable. He fisted his hands in Jack's hair, trying to guide him to where Ianto wanted him…but the captain seemed to know exactly what he was doing, and resisted the pressure.
It was over embarrassingly quickly.
There was a sudden rush of heat, and Ianto came violently, gasping Jack's name in pleasure only because he was too breathless to scream. He looked down, as the other man was looking up at him; Jack's blue eyes were twinkling as he pulled himself upward.
As soon as he was in range, Ianto was going back to work on getting Jack's trousers off. He fumbled a bit, his fingers shaking still in the aftermath of his orgasm, but was single-minded in his task. He maneuvered the man back against the wall, as he finally managed to release Jack's own cock to the open air.
He stared at it. Ianto couldn't help himself. This was the first time he'd actually ever seen another man's penis, and above all else wanted to remember what Jack looked like, with erection bared and looking debauched from the mind altering blow job he'd just given. Ianto held this picture in his mind, savoring it, knowing that it had been him who'd helped make this image.
Jack's voice brought him back to himself. Staring into those concerned eyes, he knew what the answer to Jack's query would be. He folded his hand around that cock, and slowly began to pump it, moving his hand in different ways to see how Jack reacted. The mercenary closed his eyes, resting the back of his head against the cold wall, his mouth open and his breathing ragged.
Ianto leaned over, running his tongue over the tip of Jack's member, earning a groan from the other man. He was feeling a little uncertain, worried that he was going to mess up, but from the noises Jack was making he seemed to be enjoying it.
As for the taste…Gods, it was strange, but in a good way. Salty and warm and so full of life. Ianto took the chance, and closed his lips over the head of Jack's cock, sucking in the same way Jack had, hoping the captain would like it the same as Ianto had.
He hadn't had anything to worry about.
In minutes, Jack was twitching. "I'm gonna…" he tried to say, but Ianto's mouth on him shut him up.
The captain's penis pulsed, and then Ianto was trying to swallow without spitting anything out of his mouth. He didn't succeed, but as he sat up Jack's finger caressed his lip, wiping the semen from Ianto's chin. Then he licked the finger, his eyes smiling.
Then they were kissing again, but it was a soft, quiet thing; almost like a promise of more to come. Once they pulled back, Jack smiled gently. "We should get some sleep."
Ianto nodded, returning the smile. "I think you might have just managed to tire me out."
That made the man chuckle. "So, I'm better than a book?"
"Oh yes," Ianto whispered. "Much better."
She could hear it, speaking to her.
She thought maybe she was going mad.
My dark one…you are the one truly worthy of me…you can wield me, daughter of assassins…
She tried to ignore it, but the soft, silky voice grew stronger as she lay there, attempting to sleep. Not even the thunder could block it out.
You know you want me. Your darkness compliments mine.
She heard someone get up, and wanted to call out, to let them know that something was wrong, but she continued to lay there, pretending to be asleep.
It is simply the Wizard. Pay him no heed. He is too weak to use me as I was meant to be used. But you…we were destined. You and I, assassin's child.
She wondered vaguely how the voice knew, knew about her family.
That question brought quiet laughter.
I recognize you. I know you. None of these others do; they tolerate you, using you only for your skill with a blade and not even curious to know more about you.
She knew that wasn't exactly true, yet at the same time the voice was making sense.
You could not take your Masters' exams, because the Testers would know you immediately. You attempted to hide your true self, but that has proved to be impossible.
It was true; she'd had to bar herself from achieving her Mastery, it would have given away too much. Being a rogue assassin would have caused far too many questions, and the last thing she'd wanted was to have it get back to the Guild that she'd broken her vows. It wouldn't have mattered what her reason had been.
Not even the Assassins' Guild could control you. You are a force of nature, dark one. Nothing can stop you, only hold you back if you let it.
The voice was right. She'd known she lusted for wealth beyond the Guild, and what it could provide. She'd been meant for so much more than to sneak around and backstab local lords for pay. And yet, she'd still ended up a mercenary…
Only temporarily, and only so we could be brought together. It was Fate.
She'd always believed in Fate. Since the time that Unearthly Child had read her fortune, she'd believed. It had set her on her current path, riding with Captain Jack Harkness and his crew. She'd been his first recruit, and she'd served him well.
But you are above teaching weaklings how to use weapons they will never master, or cleaning up the messes left behind by your so-called teammates. Your skills are misused.
That was true. She felt the twin stabs of anger and frustration pierce deeply. She'd been misused, her skills unappreciated.
She lost track of time, as the voice whispered to her. Someone else got up, and this time she didn't give calling out another thought.
The immortal captain goes in search of his catamite.
The voice chuckled darkly.
Oh yes. I can sense the ancient magic in him, keeping him alive beyond the natural span. He was the reason I was brought to this place, only the Wizard who found me proved as weak as the young one who travels with you.
She remembered the story of the scroll, the story of…
There was yet another laugh.
At least she was amusing whatever it was speaking…
Not you, dark one. I am amused by your captain, thinking he can hide this. Oh, the Wizard knows, but it is only a matter of time before the Deathless makes a mistake.
It simply wasn't possible. She'd traveled with him for years, and never once had she seen…
That is because you are undeserving of his trust. He hides his true nature from you, who should have been his confidante.
Yes, she should have been.
Between us, there are no such secrets.
But Ianto knows…why him?
Because magic calls to magic, and the Deathless…wants to play. Has he ever played with you?
The voice sounded amused.
The anger roiled within her. She'd tried, when she'd first been recruited, but nothing had ever come of it. He'd seemed too enamored of the Baroness…
Do not let it bother you…you deserve better than that.
Yes, she did.
You deserve me.
Yes, she did.
The two of them got dressed quickly, suddenly noticing the chill in the air once more. Jack couldn't keep the grin off his face, or his eyes off Ianto. While it hadn't been under the conditions he may have wished, what had happened between them had been…well, amazing. He vowed to himself that the next time would be somewhere a lot more comfortable than a stone floor.
And there would definitely be a next time. Jack made that vow easily.
He picked up the blanket as the younger man was busily stuffing the two books back into his pack. Ianto lingered on the suspected gramaryia; it would be just what he'd need if he continued his studies. Jack had confidence that Ianto could teach himself what he needed to know about tapping his power, but even he knew, despite the impressive uses he'd managed to put it to so far, that it would be years before the young man would be able to tap into his potentiality. And Jack wanted to see it when it did happen.
Ianto's eyes met Jack's, and the mercenary could see something in them he couldn't quite identify. "You all right?" he asked softly, touching the archivist's elbow lightly.
"More than all right," he smirked. "Although a bed next time would be nice."
"You read my mind, Master Jones."
"I'm quite sure I did…sir."
Jack returned the smirk. "Keep that up and we won't make it to a bed."
"Then…you may have just found the way to get me to keep calling you Jack."
The captain laughed. "And here I was, thinking to go about that some other way."
"Sometimes the more interesting ways are best."
With that, Ianto leaned over and pressed his lips against Jack's. They stood there, the thunder rumbling through the ancient stone, tongues battling for dominance as the magic fluttered and flowed between them.
Jack had never felt anything like it in his entire – and very long – life. He could so easily become addicted to this sensation. He pulled away reluctantly. "Rest, Ianto."
"You're right," the archivist sighed. "We have a long trip home."
Together they headed toward the door. With a flamboyant bow, Jack pulled it open for the archivist…to reveal the red-gold form of Myfanwy. The dragon crouched on all fours in front of them, her wings at half-furl and her head oscillating between the two men, her body practically vibrating.
"Looks like our chaperon has arrived," Jack quipped.
Myfanwy made a trilling sound, then scuttled forward to practically leap onto Ianto, nearly taking the young man down with the impact. Once she was settled with her claws on Ianto's hips and biceps, her tail snaked out and wrapped itself around Jack's waist, pulling him closer to her master. The mercenary could feel her purr through the contact, and didn't fight her one bit as she maneuvered them how she wanted them, shoulder to shoulder.
"Do you think she approves?" Ianto murmured, smiling.
"Either that, or she wants a threesome."
"Just kidding…Hey!" he exclaimed as the dragon nipped at his ear.
"Apparently she thinks so, too."
"Yeah, well tell your dragon I wasn't serious."
"I get the distinct impression that she's our dragon, Jack."
"I'm not a Wizard."
"I don't think that matters."
Jack rubbed at the warm head that now rested on his shoulder, stroking along the base of the golden horn. The green eyes closed in pleasure, and Myfanwy hummed. He was undeniably touched by her acceptance of him, and his presence in Ianto's life. "All right…but when she's bad she's your dragon."
"And when she's good, she's yours?" Ianto chuckled.
"I think that makes sense, yes."
Ianto rolled his eyes. "Okay…Dad."
"Oi! Enough of that!"
Ianto actually sniggered. Jack barely resisted the urge to cuff him about the head.
"C'mon you," the captain smirked, "let's get some sleep. Hopefully this storm'll burn itself out before morning and we can get an early start."
He wrapped an arm around Ianto's shoulders – the only place he could properly grasp the younger man without a certain dragon getting in the way – and together they made their way back to their camp. Everything looked calm; Jack managed to extricate himself from both Ianto and Myfanwy, and stoked up the fire a bit. He watched as the archivist settled the dragon back down, then head toward his own bedroll. His eyes caught Jack's; the captain thought he could make out a golden sparkle in their blue depths, and then Ianto turned away to set his pack down and get himself settled for sleep.
Jack remained by the fire for a while, lost in his own thoughts. What had happened between Ianto and himself had been something he'd fantasized about more than once. He smiled softly, already looking forward to it happening again. But next time, he'd definitely wait to get to somewhere more comfortable…if he could hold out that long.
The storm did, indeed, blow itself out during the night, leaving a damp and chilly morning. The sun was hidden behind gray clouds, but Toshiko claimed that the weather would get better as the day went on. Jack was glad; he felt horribly uncomfortable with the Dagger and Gauntlet so close, and wanted nothing more than to get back to Cardiff with them.
After breakfast, it didn't take them long to get everything packed up. Jack and Owen tied the metal box onto the pack horse, although the animal seemed about as nervous of the thing as the rest of them. Except for Suzie; his second didn't appear to be bothered at all, even volunteering to lead the burdened horse. He wasn't at all sure he cared for the attention Suzie was paying that box, and decided he'd need to keep an eye on her. Ianto had assured him that there was no way anyone could open the lock but him, and while Jack had complete confidence in the young Wizard, he also knew from long experience that anyone with enough motivation could do pretty much anything they set their minds to.
"That's all right, Suzie," Ianto's voice cut across Jack's thoughts, "I can take that."
His lover – and Jack decided he really liked that term applied to Ianto Jones – gently took the reins of the pack horse from Suzie's grasp. "No offense," he went on, "but I'd feel safer if the Artifacts were in my keeping."
The woman looked a little surprised, and there was something flashing in her dark eyes that the captain decided he didn't like. But she gave up the reins without complaint. "Sure, all right," she answered, moving away.
The group managed to get on the road just after breakfast. Jack pushed them a little faster than he normally would have, the inclination to get back to Cardiff as quickly as possible settling into his gut like a bad piece of meat. He let Toshiko take point, while he rode in the rear, making certain that Ianto and the pack horse were securely in the middle of their formation. Suzie and Owen each took a flank, and they remained in this diamond pattern around the archivist and their precious cargo for the rest of the day.
There was silence between them, which was unusual. Jack knew he didn't feel like talking, and assumed that the others felt the same way. Yes, they'd left the unsettled atmosphere of the tower behind, but that miasma seemed to follow them as they rode south. Everyone seemed affected by it; but, as the day went on, Jack caught Suzie making surreptitious glances toward that damned box. It was doing something to his second, and the mercenary didn't like that at all.
They wouldn't pass through Gateway this time, Jack deciding to go around as he'd originally planned on the trip north. He could tell that Ianto was a bit disappointed, but he told the younger man that there would be time to explore the ruins at some other point. Jack didn't say that the real reason were the memories that Gateway had brought to the surface, although Ianto seemed to understand the unspoken reason. Jack was pitifully grateful for that.
He was really hoping that their journey home would be uneventful.
On the second day from the tower, that hope came crashing down around them all.
"What's wrong with your lizard, Wizard boy?" Owen called out, pointing toward the sky.
Jack followed the gesture, for once not correcting the surgeon's nickname for Ianto. Myfanwy was circling high in the sky, faint shrieks echoing down toward them.
"I…don't know," Ianto answered. He had his hand up over his eyes, shielding them from the sun's glare.
"Maybe she's found something interesting for dinner," Jack said, although he really didn't think that was the answer.
"Maybe," the archivist agreed, sounding unsure about it. Jack wondered if he was picking up anything from her empathically.
As they watched, the dragon kept circling, her cries getting louder. Then she suddenly dodged, the sun glittering on her scales as she rode the winds higher into the sky. She twisted sharply once more, and then again.
Jack had a sudden, horrible thought: that Myfanwy was being shot at, and her quick movements were in order to get out of the way of the arrows being aimed at her. He couldn't prove it; they were too far away to see anything flying toward her, but everything in the captain yelled at him that the dragon was in danger.
"Ianto," he rapped, "can you call her back?"
"I don't know how, Jack," his lover sounded frustrated.
"Can't you cast a spell or something?" Owen snarked.
"I hate to break it to you," Ianto snapped, "but I've only just discovered that I could be a Wizard. That means I don't know how to actually use the power all that well."
"Fat lot of good you are!"
"Quiet!" Jack chewed his lip. He called them all to a halt, because whatever was going on with Myfanwy he didn't want them to ride straight into it. He glanced at Ianto, a thought forming. "She's your dragon; you might be able to see through her eyes."
The younger man glanced at Jack, his eyebrows rising. "Yes, you told me that…" He looked back up at the wildly erratic dragon. "But wasn't that supposed to be a fairly advanced skill?"
"Yes, but what have you go to lose by trying?"
Ianto didn't say anything; he just went back to staring at the dragon. She was flying even higher now, and Jack was pretty certain she'd be out of weapons' range now. He wondered why she wasn't coming back, but didn't say anything. He'd let Ianto deal with her, if he could.
They set there, long enough for the horses to become a bit restless. Jack chewed his lip absently, then realized what he was doing and stopped. If there was something ahead that was a danger to them, he needed to know right away; of course, it could have just been some hunters out, thinking that Myfanwy would make a good next meal. The thing against that theory was that they were fairly far from the next town, and anyone in the area was most likely passing through, like themselves. The ruins of Gateway had a haunted reputation, and for good reason. No one would most likely choose to live this close to them.
"I…can't," Ianto finally murmured, looking away from the dragon turning to face Jack. His eyes hadn't quite gotten that eclipse-like look to them, but there was a definite golden circle around the pupils, and it glowed against the blue of the archivist's irises. "But I think I was able to get her to come back."
Sure enough, the dragon was flying back toward them. It didn't take her long to reach the group; she landed lightly on the ground in front of the horses, her squeals and clickings disturbing the animals.
Ianto was down in an instant; Jack followed, joining his lover as the Wizard knelt in front of Myfanwy. She was greatly disturbed by whatever she'd seen; even Jack could sense it and he didn't have any sort of empathic bond with her.
Ianto did, however, and he was currently trying his best to calm her. "I don't know what you're trying to say," he murmured, his hands stroking her.
Myfanwy made a half shriek, half cough sort of sound, her own claws scrabbling at Ianto's shoulders. She looked at Jack, her tail pulling him in close. Her green eyes glittered alarmingly, even as she made the same noise in his direction.
"She's afraid of something," the young man said with certainty.
"Yeah, could tell that myself," Owen said, and surprisingly there wasn't a trace of sarcasm in the tone.
Jack glanced behind him. Both Toshiko and Owen had dismounted as well, joining him and Ianto in the middle of the overgrown road. He could just make out Suzie, staying back with the horses. He vaguely thought that it was dangerous to leave her alone with the Artifacts, but Myfanwy's distress was too strong to ignore.
"Can you tell what she's afraid of?" Toshiko asked worriedly.
Ianto tried to meet her eyes, finally succeeding by grabbing onto her head and pulling it around in order to get her attention. "Tell me what's wrong," he urged her.
To anyone else, it would have looked like a bizarre sort of staring contest, between the otherworldly dragon and the young man. But Jack could see actually sense something pass between the familiar and her Wizard, even if he couldn't understand it.
Finally, Ianto looked up. His eyes were back to normal. "Our bond is still new for me to pick up much beyond fear, panic, and anger. I tried to use my usual Catalyst abilities as well, but I can't get anything beyond that."
"Then I think we need to assume there's something ahead that we don't want to meet," Jack said, standing.
"Bugger this," Owen sighed. "I knew this job would be a pain in the arse."
"We should leave the road, then," Toshiko affirmed. "We'll cut across country and try to circle whatever's ahead of us."
"Good plan," the captain agreed. "Tosh, you lead us. We'll go in the same configuration we're in now; the diamond, keeping Ianto and the Artifacts in the middle." Ianto opened his mouth to say something, but the look on Jack's face made him stay silent. "We all need to be ready for trouble, so have your weapons at hand. Ianto, keep Myfanwy close. Whoever's ahead might have tried to track her back to us."
They headed back to the horses, Ianto going to Suzie to take the reins of the pack horse once more. The woman hesitated, her hand tightening on the leather as if she wasn't willing to let go. "Suzie, you need to give me the reins," he said.
It looked as if Jack was going to have to intervene, but Suzie eventually thrust the reins into Ianto's hand. She then turned to mount her own horse, taking up the left flank as she had before.
They were on their way once more, Toshiko leading them through the fields that would take them in the general direction of Gateway. Jack really didn't want to get that close, but with something potentially dangerous ahead of them they really didn't have much of a choice.
He just hoped he was being paranoid in thinking that whoever was on the road was after them.
The farther away from the road they traveled, the more nervous Ianto became. He could not say where the feelings were coming from, only that it felt as if someone were running ghostly fingers up his spine. He shivered, tightening his grip on the pack animals' reins.
His horse seemed almost as nervous as the archivist was, its head jerking at every little noise. The presence of Myfanwy wasn't helping matters any; the dragon kept making sharp whining noises as she walked beside Ianto and his mount. He'd tried to soothe her by sending calming thoughts, but it was hard when his own thoughts were jittery with unknown fears.
He kept glancing in Suzie's direction; Ianto would catch her looking at him every once in a while, and her expression made the nerves even worse. The mercenary's dark eyes seemed to drill into him almost as if she were staring into his soul. Ianto wished that Jack was visible to him; the captain's presence would go a long way to helping him stay calm.
As soon as that thought crossed his mind, the Wizard mentally shook himself. Since when did he become so totally reliant on another person that he couldn't handle himself without them? Yes, he could truthfully say that he cared very much for Jack, but to place his own emotional well-being on one person's shoulders was detracting from his own self-reliance. He had to get himself back under control on his own, he just couldn't constantly rely on Jack to make things better.
With that thought, the archivist tugged a bit harder on the horses' reins, in an attempt to get the beast under control once more.
Ianto looked over toward the pack horse to check that the box containing the Dagger and the Gauntlet were still firmly tied to the animal. The thing disturbed him more than he wanted to admit, and he would be grateful to have the Artifacts in the deepest, darkest Archive in Torchwood Castle for the rest of eternity.
Now, all they had to do was get to Cardiff.
Which, seemed to be a bit more impossible than it had been before, if whatever had disturbed Myfanwy was waiting for them. All he could think of was John Hart, and the man's insistence that he could get money for the Artifacts. It made the wizard wonder if whoever was on the road ahead knew what they were carrying.
Or, he was just being bloody paranoid.
Well, his father always claimed that just because you were paranoid doesn't mean that they are not out to get you.
He wished his bond with Myfanwy was stronger, so he could understand what was disturbing her so badly. From what he'd seen, she'd somehow been attacked, although by enemies or simply hunters, he could not say. As if she knew he was thinking of her, the dragon blinked up at him, her green eyes swirling with anxiousness. Ianto met those eyes, and he felt the connection instantly, breaking against his mind like a wave. He wavered in the saddle, wondering why he'd never quite felt it as strongly as before, even earlier on the road. What are you trying to tell me? He thought, even as he brought his horse and the pack horse to a halt.
Once again, it was as if Myfanwy was reading his mind; she launched herself upward, wings glinting in the daylight. Ianto watched her as she circled the band, flying higher and higher until she was a red-gold blur against the blue of the sky.
He turned in the saddle at Jack's shout. The captain was looking at him, a combination of confusion and irritation on his handsome features. The entire group had come to a stop, and Ianto was now the center of everyone's attention.
Jack rode closer. "I thought I told you to keep her close?" he demanded.
Ianto took offense at the tone the mercenary used, but hid it. He didn't answer, because quite honestly he didn't know how to answer that question. Instead, he looked upward, watching as the dragon flew overhead, a feeling of something growing in his mind.
What are you trying to tell me?
Myfanwy began to circle once more, this time somewhere to the south. It hit him all at once. "We're not alone," he murmured. "She's trying to tell us…we're not alone."
Jack must have heard, judging from the cursing the immortal was doing. "Call her back," he ordered, going into full Captain mode.
The archivist heard him giving orders as Ianto tried once more to reach out to the dragon. Come back, he sent his thoughts toward her, hoping she'd understand.
He was frightened for her; if whoever was about caught sight of her, she would be attacked again. The passing notion that the ones out there were innocent, but he discarded it immediately. What they were carrying was too dangerous to even assume that there was no danger, and once again he considered that John Hart had known someone who would have paid hard coin for these Artifacts. They might not be the ones Hart had told, but really…it was too much of a risk to assume otherwise.
This time Jack's voice was filled with concern. Ianto looked at him once more, nodding. "I'm fine," he answered the unasked question.
"I didn't doubt otherwise." Jack's hand touched his shoulder. "Ianto, I want you to take the Artifacts and ride toward Gateway –"
"I'm not leaving."
"Yes, you are," the mercenary asserted. "We'll cover you as you ride." He leaned closer. "You know as we as I do, that once you're in Gateway you can tap into the Deep Magic there to protect yourself and the Artifacts."
Of course he could; he recalled vividly what he'd done to Hart there. "I don't like leaving you."
"We can take care of ourselves," Jack grinned. "This is what we get paid to do." The grin turned into something a little more intimate. "We can't assume whoever's out there doesn't know what we're carrying. And, right now, our job is to protect those Artifacts…and by extension, you. We'll keep them off you, and once you get there you can do whatever you need to do in order to protect yourself and the Dagger and Gauntlet."
Ianto nodded. What Jack was saying made sense. He didn't like it, but he could see the logic of it. "All right," he acquiesced. "But I'm leaving Myfanwy to help you."
Jack looked like he wanted to argue, but as he opened his mouth the dragon landed beside Jack's horse, startling the animal even as Myfanwy was putting a clawed hand on the captain's calf. She turned to regard Ianto; her head bobbed as if she were nodding, her eyes fierce.
"See?" the Wizard pointed out. "She knows she belongs here with you. She'll look after you, Jack. For me."
"All right. Just get going. We'll hold them off."
Ianto would have kissed him, if there hadn't been as much distance between them. Instead, he nodded, then pulled on the pack horse's reins and began to ride away.
He passed Toshiko, and the Elven woman smiled as she turned her own horse toward the direction Myfanwy had indicated. "We'll be fine," she said. "We've done this sort of thing before."
The Archivist took a final look back at the mercenary band; they were gathering around Jack, who was giving orders in a low tone that Ianto couldn't make out. Myfanwy crouched by the captain's stirrup, looking as fierce as Ianto had ever seen her.
Then he turned around, urging the two horses toward Gateway.
The ruins beckoned to him, and it felt like Ianto was coming home.
He rose deeper into the field of broken stone, the magic humming deeply within him. He'd not felt this powerful since his first visit; he knew instinctively that this place could be dangerous for him, that he could easily lose himself within the power saturating the area. The ghosts he'd seen before flickered on the edge of his vision, moving as if they were still living their normal lives within the transparent walls of the once-great city.
A preternatural silence lay around him; not a bird or creature appeared to be around, and the quiet thrummed against his nerves just as the magic did against his mind. A peaceful gravesite, came the unbidden thought. It made him shiver.
Ianto kept riding, he didn't know for how long. He found himself deep within the ruins, a large pinnacle of stone before him, reaching into the sky. There was something about it that drew him toward it, like a beacon in the darkness. The sense of power was greatest there, and the archivist could see the specters of the past there more clearly than anywhere else. He caught glimpses of people: a tall man, with a shock of wild brown hair, eyes weary beyond their years; a young woman with blonde hair, laughing with the sheer joy of being alive; and a man in armor, smirking as he flirted with both the man and woman.
This was Jack, before his Deathlessness took over his existence. And the man and woman…they had to have been the Wizard and his Apprentice, Master John and Lady Rose.
Ianto didn't think she looked at all like a person who would curse a friend with immortality.
Suddenly he didn't want to be there. He turned his mount, ready to escape from the visions he was an inadvertent witness to. Damn Jack for sending him here. This place might make him powerful, but that didn't mean he had to like staying there.
He hadn't ridden very far, when Ianto caught sight of someone riding toward him at a gallop. He stopped, hoping it was Jack coming to tell him that they'd stopped whoever it was who'd been stalking them.
But no…to his surprise, it was Suzie.
Distrust shivered through him like a chill wind. Ianto couldn't see Jack sending her, of all people, after him and the Artifacts. Not with the strange way she acted around them. No…something was wrong.
Ianto reached for the power around him, feeling it rise to his call. He dismounted, putting the pinnacle at his back, holding the horses' reins so the animals wouldn't wander off. He waited until she was closer, then called out to her to stop.
Another surprise…she obeyed. Suzie halted her mount, then clambered down from the saddle. She took a few steps toward him, but Ianto asked her to stop once more. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"I've come to make sure you and the Artifacts are safe," she answered. The weapons' expert was trying to act nonchalant, but Ianto could see through it. This woman was dangerous, and the archivist knew he had to be careful.
"I'm fine," he answered cautiously. "As you can see. Where are the others?"
"They'll be along," Suzie answered, taking another step forward.
She looked at him, her dark eyes glittering. "They were Lord Henry Parker's men," she answered. "Apparently they found out what we were carrying, and Lord Henry sent them after us to get the Artifacts."
He'd heard of the man, of course. Lord Henry had always been a thorn in Torchwood Castle's side; even though magical Artifacts had become very rare – since no one had been able to read many of the ancient documents until Ianto had come along and had figured out the magical glasses – there'd always been rumors, and Lord Henry would always try to work out ways to get to things before the Baroness. It was said that the man was dying, and Ianto could see how at least the Gauntlet would be attractive to him.
Then is clicked…this must have been the person Hart had gone to, and had promised him money to bring the Artifacts to him.
"Everyone's all right then?" he asked.
Suzie shrugged. "Jack died. But he's fine now."
Ianto flinched. He really hated when that happened, and wished he could have been there when Jack woke up…
Wait a moment. Suzie was acting as if Jack's Deathlessness wasn't a shock to her.
"What do you mean?" Ianto asked, deciding on playing dumb on the subject. "How can Jack have died…and now be fine?"
One side of Suzie's mouth curled upward in an ugly smile. "Come on, Ianto…you know. Jack is the Deathless. It's pretty obvious, really."
"The Deathless is a myth," Ianto scoffed, his blood going suddenly cold. How did she know? Jack had claimed to be so very careful…and in fact had said he hasn't died in about a year.
"Oh please. You know. I know you know." She was moving closer. "The magic keeping him alive calls to you. It's no wonder you jumped into his bed; that sort of power must really be a turn-on." Another step. "Tell me…is he as good as they say? I bet he can make you scream – "
"Stay back, Suzie," he ordered, raising one hand to ward her off. "I don't want to hurt you."
"I'm only here to make sure the Artifacts are safe," she answered. "After all, it's what I'm being paid for."
"No. You're being manipulated. Somehow, the Artifacts are influencing you." He blinked, and could suddenly see the darkness surrounding her, a darkness that hadn't been there before. Or, at least he hadn't been looking for it. And why should he? She was one of Jack's trusted crew, and he knew the captain would have done everything in his power to make certain he was surrounded by good people.
It didn't answer the question on how she knew about the Deathless. "Tell me Suzie…how do you really know about Jack? How did you find out?"
The mercenary laughed. "Let's just say I had my eyes opened."
The other shoe dropped. "By the Artifacts." Of course; it made sense. They were powerful and full of dark magic. Being sentient would only be one of their abilities.
She shrugged, one-shouldered. "The Dagger, actually. It calls to me. I'm destined to hold it." She took yet one more step forward, putting her nearly within reaching distance. "You will open the box and give it to me."
"No, I won't." Gods, he felt bad about this. If he hadn't found out about the Artifacts existing, then this wouldn't be happening. "Suzie, you have to let this go."
"Let it go?" This time her laughter sounded somewhat maniacal. "All my life I've been waiting for this, for something that would make my fortune. I'm not going to let you stop me, Ianto."
The magic roared to life within him even as Suzie was launching herself forward.
The very last thing Jack wanted to do was to send Ianto off on his own, but the tactical part of his mind was telling him it was the best thing to do. That, if whoever was out there was indeed after the Artifacts – and he had no reason to believe otherwise – then having Ianto leave would give the rest of them the chance to get out of this situation relatively intact. They might be able to bluff their way out; or if not, then at least Ianto would be able to best defend himself using the power of Gateway.
He tried to stifle that little voice in his head that gibbered at the thought of Ianto leaving without the mercenary to at least look after him…
No. He couldn't allow himself to be distracted by his attachment to the Wizard like that. Jack had to concentrate on what was going on now, and not on what couldn't be's. Besides, Ianto could take care of himself, especially when surrounded by all that magic. He had to have confidence in that.
He turned back to his team. They were all looking at him expectantly; even Myfanwy, with her claw daintily touching his boot, was counting on him to come up with a plan to get them out of whatever mess this was.
"We wait here," he said. "May was well make them do all the work and come to us. Tosh, the moment they come into range, I want you targeting the leader. Don't let him out of your sight."
Toshiko nodded, slipping her bow off her back, and fitting an arrow to the string.
"Owen, Suzie…spread out on either side. Weapons ready; I don't want them to be able to get the drop on us. "
Owen nodded. "You got it, boss." He prodded his horse into movement, making toward the place Jack had indicated.
Suzie didn't say anything; she simply glanced in the direction Ianto had gone. She had a faraway look in her eye, one that worried Jack. "Suzie!" he barked, bringing out his "Captain" voice.
It seemed to snap her out of it. "Sorry, Jack."
He urged his horse closer, until their legs were nearly touching. "Look, I don't know what's going on with you and those damned Artifacts, but get your head into the here and now, or else you might not live to see that box again!"
Her dark eyes went wide. "What? I don't – "
"Don't lie to me, Suzie. Those things are dangerous, and they've gotten their hooks into you. Trust me when I say nothing good will ever come from those Artifacts…nothing. I don't know what you're thinking, but deal with it and let it go." He barely resisted the urge to shake her. "You're better than this. "
Suzie swallowed, nodding. She moved into position, but Jack wasn't convinced that he'd gotten through to her. He stifled a sigh, instead looking down into the swirling green eyes of the dragon. "It's never easy, is it?" he murmured.
Myfanwy cocked her head to the side, and the captain swore he could see sympathy in her gaze. Her claw stroked his boot lightly, and she chirped at him.
Jack chuckled. "I don't know what that means, but I'm guessing you're agreeing with me." He did sigh then. "Let's take care of this, so we can go and find Ianto, shall we?"
Now, that sound he figured out – she was laughing.
Jack got the distinct impression that the dragon knew far more than anyone was giving her credit for.
Without him telling her to, Myfanwy leapt into the air, her powerful wings propelling her upward until she found a thermal to glide along. Jack watched her for a moment, then turned his attention back to the task at hand.
They didn't have long to wait.
There were seven in the group coming toward them, and to Jack's practiced eye they were all heavily armed. The captain could feel the adrenaline beginning to course through him, even as he leaned forward in the saddle, one arm resting across the pommel and the other loosening his sword in its sheath.
He waited until they were a bit closer before calling out. "Nice day, isn't it?"
The riders halted at his greeting. The one in the front had fancier armor than the others, which was a sure sign that he was their leader. Jack didn't have to turn to see Toshiko take aim on the man with her bow. "Yes it is, Captain Harkness," the man greeted in return.
Jack's eyebrow went up, a large and salacious grin on his face. "You seem to have the advantage."
"In more ways than one, apparently."
Oh, this arse was cocky. Just the way Jack liked them; more inclined to make mistakes.
His eyes took in the soldiers behind the man. Two of them had crossbows out; one was his weapon casually on his saddles' pommel; the other had it slung back onto a shoulder. Both had expressions that told Jack that they were as certain of the outcome of this little meeting as their captain was.
The others of the group were armed with swords, but no one had taken them from their sheaths as yet. Jack knew damned well that his own people were already armed and ready. The only reason Jack hadn't taken his own sword out was that he trusted his own team to have him covered. Plus there was Myfanwy, and while Jack had no idea what the dragon could do, he was confident that she wasn't defenseless.
"To what do we owe this meeting?" Jack went on.
"You know, Captain."
Jack rolled his eyes. "Oh come on…indulge me. Pretend I don't."
His opponent smirked. "We want the Artifacts, plus Torchwood's Archivist."
The mercenary leaned back in his saddle, throwing his arms out to the side in a somewhat flamboyant gesture. "Well, as you can see, it's just me and my people. No Archivist here."
That pronouncement cause a frown to temporarily wipe the good cheer from the other's features…which, in Jack's opinion, needed all the good cheer it could get. "Where is he? And where are the Artifacts?"
"You're barking up the wrong tree. Someone must have given you some bad information." And Jack could make a very good guess as to who it was. If he ever ran into John Hart again…
"If you tell me where they are, you and your people won't be hurt."
"Well, now you see…threatening my team just pisses me off. Plus, if word got around I'd voided a contract by letting some trumped up bully-boys get their hands on something – and someone – I was supposed to protect, I'd be put out of business. Besides, I've grown attached to Master Ianto. So, you see…there's three strikes against your request." He knew he'd just given the game away, but playing with these people wouldn't work, and they really needed to cut to the chase.
"You'd rather be dead?" The man sounded incredulous.
"I'm notoriously hard to kill. Take your best shot."
Jack saw the crossbows come up, but their owners didn't have a chance against a prepared Toshiko Sato. In quick succession, both men slumped from their saddles, arrows in various parts of their anatomy.
The leader of the troupe looked surprised, to say the least.
"My people are the best," Jack said, dismounting and drawing his sword. "Besides, now it's a bit more equal."
"Five against four?" the man scoffed.
Jack just grinned, well aware that it made him look slightly maniacal. "Apparently you can't count." He stabbed his finger skyward.
As if on cue, Myfanwy screeched overhead. The sound spooked the others' horses; but, being a bit more used to it, Jack's mount simply whinnied in irritation and juddered a bit to the left.
There was much cursing among the other group, as they also dismounted to avoid getting thrown. Myfanwy dived toward them, and their horses went wild; the two now-unencumbered animals ran off at speed. The soldiers fought to keep the rest under control, and ended up losing two more to the panic caused by the shrieking dragon.
Jack barely resisted the urge to laugh. He couldn't allow himself to be distracted from what could become a battle.
Which meant he saw that leader pull a small crossbow from his side; he saw the bolt flying toward him, just in time to register that he was about to die.
I hate dying by crossbow…
As it hit him in the face, he heard a terrible cry and a sudden heat against his face.
Jack took in a deep, whooping breath as life came rushing back.
That was Owen's voice. Jack fought back the groan as he looked around; a weight was on his legs, and that turned out to be Myfanwy, her horned head suddenly jutting forward to rub against his face, her horn barely missing his eye. The captain stroked her reassuringly, then glanced up into the shocked faces of his battle surgeon and Elven archer, who knelt nearby.
"Hi," he said, smiling sheepishly. Oh Gods, he'd died in front of them. He didn't want to deal with it, not without Ianto there. The Wizard would have supported him against his team, and maybe Jack would have been able to somehow salvage the situation.
Because he knew just how this was going to go…just like it always did.
"Now I know why that damned lizard wouldn't let us near you," Owen ranted on. "Don't you think this was something we might've needed to know, Jack?"
"Would you have believed me?" Would you have accepted me? was the unspoken question.
"You're the Deathless," Toshiko breathed.
Jack wanted to deny it. He wanted to claim that what they'd thought was a crossbow bolt to the face had been some sort of party trick, and that he hadn't really died. But there was no way he could hide this now.
"All that denial, all that claiming that the Deathless was just a myth…shit, Jack!" Owen stared at him, his eyes darkened by anger. "You could've trusted us!"
"You don't get it," Jack snarled back, pushing Myfanwy aside gently in order to confront his battle surgeon. "Nearly every time I've told someone about this, they haven't been able to accept it. Do you know what it's like being rejected, just because of something that happened to you, that you had no control over? I don't want to be like this, Owen; but I've had to exist for over one thousand years and every time I get close to people, they find out and they take off. So tell me…would you trust after being shown over and over again that people just can't handle knowing this about me?"
Owen looked slightly abashed, but came right back at him. "And did you even think about giving us a chance?"
Before Jack could answer, Toshiko spoke up. "Does Ianto know?"
Where did that question come from? "He…knows. It was pretty hard to hide it when he saw me die in the woods the night he was kidnapped, and then I showed up in Gateway ostensibly to rescue him."
"And he accepted you?"
"Yes…he did." Jack sighed. "But he's magic, he sensed the magic within me all the way back in Haven. He had the basis to accept me as I am. You two didn't."
"Well, we seem to accepting it just fine now," Owen pointed out acerbically.
"Why don't we talk about it later, when we're not in danger of being attacked?" Jack desperately wanted to change the subject.
"Don't have to worry about that," Owen answered, holding his hand out in order to help Jack rise.
Jack eyed it for a moment, then accepted. He had to shift Myfanwy a bit more, but managed to get to his feet. "Thanks."
"No problem. You okay now?" The surgeon actually seemed to be concerned.
"A bit of a headache. Now, what were you saying about not worrying about being attacked?"
"Take a look," Tosh said, gesturing behind him.
The captain turned…and his jaw dropped open at the scene of carnage that greeted him. An entire section of grassland was a burnt-out ruin. The scent of smoke assaulted his nostrils, and Jack wondered why he hadn't smelled it before. "What the - ?" he managed to ask, turning back to his team members.
"Myfanwy," Toshiko answered. "The moment you were killed, she attacked them."
"Yeah," Owen added. "Changed into this huge fire creature and literally torched them where they stood. Then she wouldn't let us near you. Hells, she even pulled the bolt outta your head. We just thought she was crazy or something."
Jack looked down at the dragon. Myfanwy returned his look, her expression seemingly happy. "So, you're some sort of fire drake, are you?" He rubbed her head. "Ianto's gonna be pissed off that he missed it – "
That was when he realized someone was missing.
Both Owen and Toshiko started. "Shit!" Owen spat. "She was right here!"
Jack's heart did a funny, painful sort of lurching in his chest. "She'll have gone after the Artifacts. Get the horses and let's go."
For the first time in centuries, Jack actually wanted to get to Gateway.
Intellectually, he knew Ianto could take care of himself; Gods, that was the reason he'd sent the Wizard toward the ruins in the first place, knowing he could tap into the power and protect himself and the Artifacts. Also, Ianto knew that something was up with Suzie, and would be wary of her.
But, at the same time, Suzie was an expert at weapons. There wasn't a lot she couldn't handle; in fact that was the major reason he'd hired her. Add to that, her strange obsession with the Artifacts, and it made him very much afraid for Ianto's safety.
He drove them at a pace that had them riding flat out, the ruins gathering closer on the horizon. Jack bent over his horse's neck, the scent of the animal's sweat stinging his nostrils. All he could think of was to get to Ianto…to save Ianto…
And suddenly, terribly…Myfanwy screamed and fell from the sky.
The dragon was striking the ground hard even as Jack reacted and reined his mount to a halt. The captain didn't even register sliding from the saddle before he was running toward the unmoving creature. For a heartbeat he wondered if she'd been shot or injured in some way, but as he went to his knees beside her crumpled form he saw nothing that would have caused her to collapse as she had.
He gathered her up in his arms. Her normally warm scales were cold, and had somehow dulled from their rich golden-red to a weak coppery color. She was still breathing; Jack could see her chest rising and falling gently, but she didn't answer Jack's calling her name.
"Jack," Toshiko put a hand on his shoulder. "Is it Ianto?"
She was so sharp, to equate Myfanwy's condition to Ianto. Jack's breath hitched painfully in his chest. "I…I think so. Dragons and Wizards are bound…"
"We need to get to him."
Those words propelled Jack forward. He gathered Myfanwy in his arms, and between Owen and Toshiko they got her up into the saddle with him. Jack tightened his grasp around her motionless body, hoping that she hadn't been hurt by the plummet to earth. He had to hope that they'd be in time, that the dragon still being alive was a good sign…
Because dragons and Wizards were bound for life. The death of one would mean the death of the other.
Jack found himself praying to Gods he wasn't even certain existed anymore.
Please let him be alive. Please don't let him be dead…
"Well…this is unexpected."
Ianto Jones had never really given the Afterlife much thought. His parents had been quite religious, taking their family to all the Rites for as long as Ianto could recall. Ianto, himself, was more of a person who believed it when he saw it, or had proof handed to him, and since no one could prove the existence of life after death, he simply dismissed it.
Now, he was wondering why Heaven – or which Hell – would resemble an outdoor café in what appeared to be Gateway before the Demons came.
And why the coffee tasted so very mediocre.
A giggle pulled him from his perusal of the crowd. A woman was sitting at his table; blonde, somewhere in her early twenties…with eyes that glowed with the golden light of magic. "You're not in Heaven or any of the Hells," she said, grinning.
"Then this must be some form of limbo, because I certainly remember dying." He'd felt the knife slide into his stomach, and up into his chest. Beyond that…nothing. "And then there's yourself…I'm pretty certain that you're dead as well."
The woman raised an eyebrow. "Who do you think I am, then?"
"I know you're Lady Rose, the Wizard's Apprentice who used the Deep Ways to destroy the Demons from the North." He'd seen her in his visions of Gateway, and had known immediately who she was.
She smiled. "You'd be right…to a certain extent. I look like Lady Rose, but that doesn't really mean that I'm actually her."
It was Ianto's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Then who are you?"
"That…is a bit difficult to explain. But I do assure you, this isn't some sort of Afterlife, and you aren't actually dead."
"Then how did I survive? How did I get here?" Ianto was relieved about not being dead, but was confused about his surroundings. "And while you're at it…just where is 'here' anyway? Because it looks a lot like Gateway from over a thousand years ago."
"I knew to expect questions from you," the woman said. "Hopefully I'll have time to answer them all. Problem is, I have to explain a few things before I can answer them."
Ianto nodded, taking another sip of the substandard coffee and grimacing. "Can you least tell me who you are first, and why you look like Lady Rose?"
She sighed. "Of course, you know the story of the Demons." It wasn't a question.
The archivist nodded. "The Demons of the North came into what were called the Living Lands, killing and destroying as they went. They were stopped here, at Gateway…by Lady Rose, who used the Deep Ways to destroy them."
"Basically correct. However, the Deep Ways didn't technically destroy the Demons…it simply took back what they were given, which was Life."
"It sounds like you're splitting hairs. Death is Death."
The woman shook her head. "All right, I see I'll need to go back a bit farther then in my explanation." She took a deep breath. "I assume you're familiar with the Laws of Magic, particularly Einstein's Law of Conservation of Magic?"
Ianto nodded, remembering discussing it with Toshiko on the trip to Haven.
"Then you know that magic cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be controlled?"
"Yes, although that's a rather simplistic way of putting it."
"Simple works in this case. Magic is a part of the natural processes of this world, and is another form of energy, and as such we cannot create more of it. And only a Wizard with the talent can bring the magic under his or her control."
Ianto nodded again. "And there hasn't been a true Wizard born in centuries, only those with a modicum of talent." He thought back to Adam Smith in Haven, and his ability to get into another person's mind.
"And then there's yourself." She sounded almost teasing.
"I thought that went without saying," he answered drily.
The woman laughed merrily. "Yes, you're right. As I was saying…magic is an energy of this world, and it can be tapped into somewhat easily, if you have the ability. But then, there's the Deep Magic, which isn't truly magic per se."
"I know there isn't much on the Deep Ways in the Torchwood Archives." Ianto sat forward, abandoning the awful coffee in favor of learning something new.
She shook her head. "There wouldn't be. You see, the Wizards thought the Deep Ways were sacred, and so they didn't write anything down about it. It got mentioned, of course, but without context the meaning got lost." The woman sighed. "Once, so very long ago that no one remembers, there were people who could also control the Deep Magic."
"So," Ianto absently took another sip of the coffee, interested in what she was saying so much that he didn't even grimace at the taste, "both the magic that we're all familiar with, and the Deep Magic, obey the same rules."
"Exactly." She smiled widely, making her look even younger. "But those Grand Wizards died out, and the Wizards that came after forgot, except for some few spells that were kept under lock and key, because they were too busy worshipping the Deep Ways instead of learning more about it."
"That was before Lady Rose came along."
"That's right. The stories say that she used a spell belonging to her Master, but that's not really true…she used her own abilities to tap into the Deep Magic and use that power against the Demons."
"And she also brought Jack back to life."
A look of sorrow crossed her features. "That…wasn't supposed to happen. But the Magic she'd taken from the Demons had to go somewhere, and unfortunately most of it all went into poor Jack."
"Wait." Ianto was confused. "The Deep Ways are what's keeping Jack Deathless." He knew that was true; he could see it.
"But you just said – "
"Ianto," she interrupted softly, "the Deep Magic was what was keeping the Demons alive."
His mouth fell open. That couldn't be possible…could it? Ianto sat there in shock, trying to process what he'd just heard. "So…you're saying that it was the ancient power that created the Demons?"
"No," she shook her head. "That's not what I'm saying at all."
"Then stop being so bloody cryptic and tell me what you mean!" He barely controlled the urge to slam his hand onto the table.
She sighed. "The Deep Magic is Life, Ianto. It's the lifeforce of the entire Universe. It's in everyone, including the Northern Demons."
That rocked him backward in his seat. Life? "How is that possible?" he asked, his voice a little higher than usual in his surprise.
"It's like regular magic; it cannot be destroyed or created, only controlled. Only the Wizards had forgotten, and the knowledge was lost."
"But Lady Rose…"
"She discovered it quite by accident. When Master John sent her away to save her life, she ended up…what do you know of the Cardinal Points?"
Ianto was thrown by the question at first, but managed to answer. "They're places where the most powerful magic is found."
The woman shook her head. "That's not entirely accurate, but that's also not a big surprise. The Cardinal Points are Rifts in the magical veil that surrounds our world; it's that veil that Wizards tap into. Those tears are where the Deep Magic pools, where it can be easily accessed and controlled. And Rose was sent to one of these places, only Master John had no idea what it was."
"Because the Wizards forgot."
"Exactly." She looked pleased. "Now, for someone with the natural ability to control the Deep Ways – which Rose was – it was like being thrown into the ocean…she could either sink or swim."
"And she did it well. She was able to use that monumental power to return to Gateway, although it completely overwhelmed her. But not before she found that she could see the Deep Ways in everyone, including the Demons. And she simply…removed it."
"She…stole their lifeforce." Ianto was wondering why he wasn't becoming a gibbering wreck under what he was learning…if this was even true. He could remember Suzie stabbing him, and was convinced no one could survive that. Some sort of Afterlife existential experience, perhaps?
Those golden eyes rolled. "Look, I've told you…you're not dead. The Deep Ways won't let you die. You're too important."
"You just read my mind?"
"No…but what you're thinking is written all over your face. Now, are you going to listen and accept what I'm telling you?"
Ianto nodded. He really didn't have much choice.
"But you were right…Rose simply pulled all that lifeforce from the Demons, turning them into little piles of dust. But all that Life didn't have anywhere to go, and Rose so much wanted Jack to live…so she sent it into him. The only problem was…mortals only have a very small flicker of the Deep Magic in them, not even enough to register to anyone even with the ability to see it."
"But Rose could."
"Yes, because of the massive amount of Life within her. All that Magic overflowed Jack...quite literally. The Deep Magic is in every cell of his body, constantly regenerating him and keeping him Deathless. "
"Is there…any way to get it out?" A part of Ianto didn't want to ask; he didn't want to risk losing Jack now that he'd just discovered his feelings. But Jack had a right to make the decision, if there was a way to cure him of his Deathlessness.
His new friend shook her head sadly. "I'm afraid not. Although, some day all that lifeforce will run out, and Jack will die. It's just going to be so far down the road the times involved are… inconceivable. He has millions of lives within him, and not even I could get it out."
A sudden notion hit Ianto. "You're the Deep Magic, aren't you?"
She laughed. "Give the man a gold star! I am the avatar of Rose Tyler, the part of the Deep Ways that was expelled from her by Master John. Normally, the Deep Ways don't go around in someone else's shape, but I kinda like it." She turned in his seat and casually admired herself in the nearest reflecting surface, which happened to be the glass front of the café they were sitting outside of.
"So…are the Deep Ways self-aware?"
"Not usually." She looked at him once more. "Sentient, yes….self-aware, no. But the Life that Rose took into herself changed. I guess you could say I have a bit of her in me, along with her memories. Something like this isn't supposed to happen…at least, I don't think it is."
She smiled. "Yes, I guess you could say I am."
Ianto glanced around at his surroundings. "And this place…?"
"An echo of Gateway the way it was, pressed into the essence of Life. Part of the Demons' lifeforce – the part not trapped inside Jack – caused the entire city and its inhabitants to become a never-ending play against the backdrop of the Deep Ways. Only certain people can see it."
"Exactly. Like ghosts haunting a long-abandoned building."
A thought came to him. "Does that mean…you're actually alone here?" He couldn't imagine it, existing alongside what amounted to eternal shadows.
The avatar shrugged, but her answer was interrupted by an inquisitive chirp from Ianto's elbow. He looked down…"Myfanwy?"
The dragon sat there, her eye glowing contentedly. She rested her head on his arm, and the sound that was coming from her was very much like purring.
"That would mean your companions have arrived," the avatar answered Ianto's unspoken question.
"But how did she get here?"
"She's connected to you…didn't you know?"
Ianto stroked Myfanwy's head. "Yes, I knew that," he said exasperatingly. "But she's not dead…is she?" He remembered what Jack had said, about dragons being bound to their Wizards…
"How many times do I have to tell you…you're not dead! Yes, your body was injured, and critically…but the Deep Ways won't let you die. "
"But why? What's so special about me?" He was having trouble getting his head around the fact that he hadn't been killed by Suzie's knife. He wasn't Jack, after all; he wasn't Deathless.
She looked at him, surprised. "I would've thought you'd realized by now. You're like Rose, Ianto…you have the ability to control the Deep Magic. You're a true-line descendant from the Grand Wizards of old."
Ianto sank back in his chair. It made sense. It was something he could accept. It shocked him, even as the knowledge was slotting itself within his categorized mind. He could feel it as truth, in that place in his head where the tingling he'd begun to think of as magic…and it was actually Magic, with a capital 'M', and it had somehow opened back in Haven, when Adam Smith had touched him and invaded his mind…
No, it was before.
"My Gran knew," he murmured. "I think something…happened, when I was a child. I didn't remember it until a short while ago…"
It's too bright.
Blink and it'll go away.
But Gran…why can I see the light?
Because you're special. The magic runs in your veins, and it lets you see things others cannot see.
I don't wanna see it! It hurts!
The memory rocked him once more.
But what do you see?
He could hear Jack asking him that question, so many times…
Ianto must have tapped into the Deep Ways when he'd been too young to deal with it, and his Gran had somehow made him forget. And, when Adam triggered that memory, it had somehow let loose what had lain dormant inside himself for so long.
And suddenly, something that the avatar had said struck him. "Wait…you said the Deep Ways won't let me die? How does that work?"
"Well, you're tapping into the very lifeforce of the Universe," she answered. "You and it have an affinity. You're connected. "
"Does that mean…" Ianto swallowed, hard, to choke back what he'd been about to ask.
"No, you're not Deathless. But, barring anything actually disconnecting you from the Deep Magic, you'll live a very long time. Really, pretty much as long as you like."
Jack wouldn't have to be alone…
Ianto could feel the smile blooming on his face at the thought. Jack had always outlived everyone, but now…
He could give the gift of companionship to an immortal who didn't deserve to be alone. He found himself laughing happily at the very thought. He might not be able to take away the Deep Magic that was keeping Jack alive long past his natural span, but at least Ianto could make it perhaps a bit more bearable.
"I need to get back," he said, making to stand. "Wait…how do I get back?"
The avatar laughed. "Getting a bit ahead of yourself, aren't you?"
"I guess I am." He settled back into his seat, and Myfanwy – whose head has been dislodged from Ianto's arm as he was getting up – took advantage and tried to climb up into Ianto's lap. The archivist laughed once more, shoving her back. "You're too big," he scolded her lightly.
The dragon actually stuck her long tongue out at him, making Ianto laugh even harder and the avatar snort coffee up her non-existent nose.
"You really are connected to me, aren't you?" he asked fondly. Myfanwy looked at him as if he was being particularly thick, then put her head firmly in his lap.
"She's a special lady, Ianto. Look after her, and she'll do the same for you and yours."
Ianto nodded, knowing that the dragon was already close to both Jack and Toshiko. He smiled as he recalled the conversation at the tower, when he and Jack had joked about just whose dragon she was.
An odd feeling came over him, as if he was being tugged somewhere by the back of the head. "I think…I don't have to worry about how I'm getting back."
She nodded. "That's your body calling for you."
"Are you going to be all right, here by yourself?" He was concerned; he didn't want her to be lonely.
She waved away his concern. "Usually my consciousness just sleeps. I'll do that again once you're gone." She got up and moved around the table, stepping around Myfanwy to put her arms around his shoulders in a hug. "You're a good man, Ianto Jones. You'll do the Deep Ways proud. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
Ianto opened his mouth to ask her what that meant, but the city was fading around him and the weight of her arms on him dissipated like smoke. Darkness flooded his vision, and the last thing he saw were a pair of golden eyes, swirling with the Deep Magic.
Then he was back in his own body, drawing a deep, shuddering breath.
And a pair of strong arms was gathering him up in a welcoming embrace.
They found Ianto and Suzie lying next to each other, and Jack would remember that particular tableaux for a very long time.
Ianto was sprawled on his back, one hand outstretched as if he were reaching for something. His legs were twisted at an awkward angle, crumpled where he must have fallen.
There was blood staining the grass.
A lot of blood.
Jack didn't know how he managed to get down from the saddle while holding the limp body of Myfanwy, but he did, and he knelt in the grass beside Ianto, hoping to find some sign of life. He slid the dragon out of his arms, and she seemed to instinctively curl around the archivist's legs…not that Jack particularly noticed.
He was too busy being shocked by the dark stain on Ianto's tunic. But he could see the faint rising and falling of the younger man's chest as he breathed.
Jack couldn't remember the last time he felt that relieved.
"Shit…shit…shit." Owen slipped to the ground on the other side of the archivist's body, almost pushing Suzie out of the way in his haste. "I'll get to her later," he answered Jack's raised eyebrow. His medical bag thumped down beside him, the battle surgeon began examining the apparent wound in Ianto's abdomen. He used a knife to slice open the sodden tunic, to expose the injured area…. "What the fuck?"
Jack didn't want to look, but the surprise in Owen's voice drew his eyes to Ianto's stomach. They widened in shock.
There was an obvious knife wound in the pale flesh, and the skin was stained a ghastly crimson color. But the injury itself…was glowing.
"What is that?" Toshiko whispered, kneeling beside Jack.
"I…" Jack was flustered by what they were seeing. "I think it's magic…"
"You mean Wizard-boy cast some sort of spell on himself?" Owen snorted. "Yeah, like I'm gonna be able to do anything about that!"
"Check on Suzie," Jack said. He realized Owen was right; there was nothing they could do for Ianto while any sort of spell was in place.
But he was puzzled. How did Ianto know anything as advanced as healing magic? He looked a little closer at the wound as Owen turned his attentions to Suzie. It didn't look like what he'd seen of such spells; if anything, it seemed as if the magic was filling the cut, instead of fixing it...
Just what had Ianto done?
For the first time, Jack glanced up at Ianto's face. The archivist looked peaceful, but…he leaned in closer, noticing that Ianto's eyes weren't completely closed; a sliver of gold shown from under the lids, and Jack gave into the temptation to slide it open more, revealing an unbroken field of swirling gold where an iris and pupil should have been.
The captain shivered. This wasn't normal magic. This was the Deep Ways.
Oh Gods Ianto…what have you done?
He'd warned Ianto; warned him that the Deep Magic was too dangerous to mess with…and yet, Jack had been the one to send the archivist to Gateway, knowing that Ianto could, indeed, control the power that lay within the shattered stones. He couldn't be totally blameless if anything happened to his lover, for using the ancient magic in order to save his life.
Jack reached out, running his finger down Ianto's cool cheek. He could actually feel the tingling of power as he traced along the curve of the younger man's cheekbone, realizing that the Deep Ways must be permeating more than just that wound if Jack was actually able to sense the Deep Ways coursing through, just under the layers of Ianto's skin.
It frightened him.
"Jack." A hand touched his shoulder, bringing him out of his thoughts.
He glanced up; Toshiko stood there, favoring him with a sympathetic expression. "What is it?"
"I'm going to start setting up camp," the Elven woman answered. "Get a fire started…"
The captain nodded, forcibly putting himself back into leader mode. "Good thinking. As soon as Owen gets done with Suzie, I'll come and help."
"I can do it, if you want to stay with Ianto – "
"No, I need to be up and doing. Owen can look after the both of them." Truthfully, he didn't want to leave Ianto's side, but he couldn't stand seeing the archivist lying there like that.
"Yeah, well at this point I'd say Ianto needs my attention more than Suzie does," the battle surgeon answered, sliding himself beside the archivist once more.
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean, Jack, is that our young Wizard friend there must have magicked her in self-defense, she's totally unresponsive. I'd say she was in a coma, but there isn't any physical injury to show the cause. Oh, and her eyes are white. The pupil and iris are completely clouded over. No idea what would've caused that, either. "
Magic. Jack was getting to the point where he genuinely hated the term, except that it was what was apparently keeping Ianto alive at that point. "Do what you can for them, Owen. I'll help Tosh set up camp."
Owen nodded, while Jack and Tosh got to work.
It didn't take long for them to get everything set up and a fire made. Jack could hear Owen grumbling about the lack of coffee, but there was a strange undercurrent to the words, as if he was only complaining by rote. After they got the bedrolls down, the two men moved Ianto and Suzie to their own, the captain carrying Myfanwy; the dragon curled into Ianto's side instinctively, and it made him smile slightly to see it.
Owen had removed Ianto's ruined tunic, and had bandaged the glowing wound in the archivist's abdomen. "Just a precaution," he'd said, when Jack had commented on it. "Don't want Wizard-boy bleeding out if the magic fails, do we?"
No, Jack didn't want that.
He set his own bedroll down near Ianto's, and it didn't seem to escape the rest of his team's notice…not that he cared. They all knew he'd been attracted to Ianto long before this mission, and besides someone had to watch over the younger man while he was unconscious.
He looked up, seeing Toshiko and Owen regarding him. "What?" he asked, making himself comfortable, somehow knowing this was going to be a serious conversation.
Toshiko settled herself cross-legged on the ground, while Owen simply squatted beside her. "Were you over gonna tell us about your…condition?" Owen asked, sounding almost tired.
Jack stifled a sigh. "Honestly? No. I was never going to say anything." He really didn't need this right now; he had other things – Ianto – on his mind.
"And you didn't think we'd notice?" Toshiko said quietly.
"I've had a lot of practice at moving on," the captain answered, just as quietly. "I've had to."
"You must be so very lonely…"
Jack stared at the Elf woman, not quite believing what she'd said. A lump formed in his throat, and he had to swallow hard to dislodge it. "You get used to it." He tried to shrug it off, but he could tell his people weren't buying it.
"Look," Owen said, "I might be a bastard, but that doesn't mean I'm any less your friend. And that doesn't get out of this camp, understood?"
The captain chuckled softly. "No, Owen. It won't."
"Good. But Tosh and me, we accept you. I think we kinda get why you hid this from us, but you hired us, Jack…you should know us well enough by know to realize we're not gonna go screaming for the hills just because you have the disconcerting habit of not staying dead."
"Most people have."
"We're not 'most people'," Toshiko replied. "We're your team. Your friends."
"I get that now." Jack rolled his eyes. "But I've had supposed friends run from me when they found out. So, please understand why I didn't want to risk that."
Toshiko nodded. "We know now, and we're not going to run." She reached across the space between them, grasping Jack's hand in support.
Jack squeezed back. "Thanks. Both of you." He couldn't believe how touched he was.
"Yeah, well…don't get all soppy on us, Harkness. We still want to get paid."
That made Jack laugh. "Only you, Owen…"
"Hey, I got my priorities."
Toshiko slapped him playfully, almost knocking the surgeon to the ground. Owen cursed, even as he was laughing himself.
Jack grinned. This was his team. His family. And he would be grateful for the rest of his very long life to have met them.
Gateway was quiet.
Only the crackling of the fire and the sound of the wind came to Jack's ears, as he sat at Ianto's side, waiting for some sign that the younger man was coming out of whatever magically-induced coma he was in. The mercenary didn't want to despair, since Ianto was still alive, yet at the same time he couldn't help it; he didn't want to lose his lover to the Deep Ways, after what had happened to Rose.
Of course, he didn't have any true witness to the events of that day, so long ago now that some of the memories had grown foggy with age. He only knew what was told second-hand, but those stories had pushed home to him just how dangerous the Deep Magic could be. Hells, it was the reason he was Deathless, so he really had no good feeling toward it anyway.
But Ianto had shown an aptitude to control, and Jack had to hope that that control would bring the Wizard back to him.
He really hoped it would be soon. He wasn't ready to lose Ianto yet.
Jack glanced down at the still forms beside him. Myfanwy hadn't moved from her place at Ianto's other side, her horned head curled up at the younger man's waist, just below the bandaged wound. Her wings were draped over his legs, almost like a second blanket. He reached out to gently stroke her snout, and she shifted slightly in the direction of the touch.
It took Jack a single heartbeat to realize that she'd actually moved.
His heart began to beat faster, taking the dragon's movement as a sign that, perhaps, both Wizard and familiar were finally awakening. The captain scrambled to his knees, leaning over Ianto's torso. He could see those glowing slits under the other man's eyelids, but the golden light seemed to be fading somewhat.
And then they fluttered.
Jack was reaching out to touch Ianto, when the Wizard suddenly gasped, eyes flying open and entire body shuddering.
Before he knew what he was doing, Jack had gathered Ianto up in his arms, pulling the Wizard up against his chest. Thank the Gods, he didn't say aloud, as he held Ianto close, his relief stealing anything else he thought to say as well.
He pulled away to look Ianto in the eye. They were now back to their usual blue, although a thin gold ring surrounded dark pupil. "How are you, Ianto?" he asked quietly, trying not to awaken Toshiko and Owen, where they lay on the opposite side of the fire.
The archivist seemed confused for a moment, but then he met Jack's gaze. "I'm…really alive," he answered, his voice tinged with wonder.
Jack wanted to laugh in relief, but kept it to a large grin. "Yes, you are. Looks like you used the magic of this place to save your life."
Ianto shook his head. "It wasn't me, Jack. It was the Deep Ways. It wouldn't let me die."
The mercenary's grin faded into confusion. "What do you mean?"
The young man settled a bit in Jack's arms, as if making himself comfortable. "It's…hard to explain." He actually bit his lower lip, which a distracted part of the captain's mind found very adorable. "While I was unconscious, I spoke to it."
Jack shook his head. "You spoke to it? What? The Deep Magic?"
"Yes. I know that sounds incredible…but I did, Jack. It…told me certain things, things I'm still wrapping my head around." His distracted gaze found Jack's again. "But I know exactly how you were made Deathless, Jack. And it's not what you think."
"Rose used a spell to harness the Deep Ways – "
"No, she didn't. There was no spell. Rose was like me…she had the natural ability to control the Deep Ways. Only she didn't know it until that day, when your Wizard friend sent her away."
Jack rocked back on his heels in shock. He'd always assumed that Rose had been the usual apprentice Wizard. Now to find out she hadn't…that she'd been able to do what Ianto could…had Master John known? "How do you know this?"
"Like I said, the Magic told me."
The immortal could hear the capital "M" in that sentence. "Ianto, you know this sounds absurd…"
"I know it does!" Ianto's voice went up in his irritation. "But you, of all people, should be listening to me!"
That made Jack cringe a bit. Ianto was right, of course. In his extremely long life, Jack had seen much that had seemed impossible. And, while he couldn't pretend to know much about magic, he'd been witness to many things that could only be classified as such. And he did pride himself on his open mindedness.
Ianto sighed. "I'm sorry, Jack. I know it sounds absurd…hells, it sounds crazy. But it's true, and it happened, and you have the right to know what Rose did to you."
And oh, Jack did want to know. He wanted to know the truth, about what had made him the way he was. "Tell me," he requested softly, tightening his arms around Ianto slightly.
"The Deep Ways isn't magic, in the technical sense of the word, although it obeys the same laws…I wish you were at least familiar with the Laws of Magic, this would be so much simpler…"
"Sorry," Jack said, contritely.
Ianto smiled softly. "Don't be. They aren't something that's taught in schools anyway, there would be no way you'd know unless you read about it or were told it by a Wizard." He took a deep breath. "The Deep Ways is the very lifeforce of the universe, Jack. It's what makes us alive."
Jack's mouth dropped open. "So…you're saying it's in all of us? Are we all connected to it?"
Ianto nodded. "I know it's hard to grasp, but it's the very energy of Life."
"So, when it's gone…"
The mercenary considered Ianto's words. "So…you're saying you can control life itself?"
"I…suppose you could put it that way. But I can't control what's inside you…only what's around us. I could conceivably kill someone by removing their life…but no, I wouldn't do that. I don't want to know how to do that. But…that's what Rose did, to all those Demons. She removed their spark of the Deep Ways. It destroyed them."
Jack was shaking his head. He'd thought Rose had killed all those Demons with magic, but instead she'd…wait a second…"You're saying she took away their lifeforce…" Oh Gods, no…he felt the blood drain from his face as the implications of what Ianto was saying made themselves known to him. "She made me Deathless…"
Ianto didn't answer; he simply wrapped his own arms around Jack, holding onto the mercenary as he came to a conclusion that sickened him.
"She used the Demons' lifeforce to bring me back, didn't she?"
How could Ianto be touching him? Rose had used an evil race's life to bring him back permanently, he was tainted…
It was all Jack could do not to run off. Oh, Rose…how could you? He was tainted by all that evil, it was a part of him…Jack wanted to throw up, wanted to kill himself over and over again, knowing that it wouldn't make up for the darkness within him now…he didn't even feel himself shaking, so lost was he in the blackness of his thoughts…
Ianto's voice broke through the fog that had grown over Jack's mind. He glanced down at the archivist; Ianto was holding him tightly, understanding in those blue/gold eyes. "That Wizard was right," he whispered, pain lacing his words. "I am an abomination…"
"No, Jack. You're not an abomination." The firm conviction in Ianto's tone seemed to ground Jack, and he listened as if those words were his lifeline. "Life itself isn't Good or Evil; it's how you use that life that gives it intent. The Demons may have been evil; but you're a good man, Jack Harkness. You're one of the best men I know. You use your Deathlessness for good purposes, and nothing those Demons did before that life was given to you will change that. You're not an abomination; and I never want you to think that again." He moved a hand to the back of Jack's neck, pulling the man into a kiss, the archivist's lips alive against his, the tingle of the Magic meeting in their mouths as intoxicating as always.
Jack clung to Ianto as if he were the most precious thing in the world. He deepened the kiss, pouring everything he had into it, needing to show the younger man just how much his acceptance meant to the mercenary.
And, when they finally pulled away, both men were smiling. "Thank you," Jack whispered, hoping that Ianto knew just what he was thanking him for.
Ianto seemed to; his smile turned almost shy, and he nodded. "You're welcome, Jack."
"Now, I think you need to be getting some rest. The Deep Ways may have saved you, but I doubt it lets you heal as fast as I do."
The Wizard winced. "No, you're right. I'm still hurting a bit. But Jack…there's something else I want to tell you."
"It can wait til morning – "
"No, it can't." Ianto took a deep breath. "I found out something else…Jack, it seems I'm connected to the Deep Ways. Barring certain events…I'll be able to live for a very long time. You…don't have to be alone anymore, unless you choose it."
Jack felt himself descend into shock for yet another time that night. "Are you saying you're…like me?" A part of him felt horror at that; immortality wasn't something he would wish on anyone, especially not the man he was developing feelings for.
But another part of him couldn't help but be happy. He'd been so lonely for so long, and despite what Owen and Toshiko had said, he was still going to lose them some day. To have someone with him, to walk with him in his terribly long life…
Ianto shook his head. "No, I'm not Deathless. I will die someday. It's just that it's my choice whether I stay or go."
There was something unspoken there, but Jack wasn't about to look deeper into it. He pulled Ianto into another hug, not knowing if the archivist understood exactly what he was offering…and Jack was selfish enough not to care.
He wasn't going to be alone…
"If you two are done with all the mushy stuff," Owen's gruff voice floated across the fire pit.
Ianto pulled himself a bit painfully out of Jack's embrace, not out of embarrassment – well, maybe a little – but to meet the battle surgeon's gaze. Both he and Toshiko were regarding them; the Elf with a happy smile; Owen smirking.
"Harkness, quit molesting Wizard-boy, I'd hate to have him bleed to death because you couldn't keep your hands to yourself."
Ianto rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to bleed to death, Owen."
"Yeah? You got your Mastery certificate in Healing then?" With that parting shot, the surgeon threw his blanket aside and, grabbing his medical kit, crossed over to where Ianto and Jack were. "Lie back, and let me take a look. Oh, and lend me that fancy crystal ball of yours so I can see."
The archivist snorted. "It's in my pack…"
With a flourish, Jack handed him the light globe even before he could ask for it. Their fingers brushed as Ianto took it, using his ability to set it alight. "Is that all right, Master Owen?" He put as much disdain into it as possible.
"Yeah, but can you get your pet lizard to back off? She's in the way."
Myfanwy had curled herself close to Ianto's body, her head resting on the archivist's abdomen near the sore spot that indicated where Suzie had stabbed him. The dragon heard Owen, turning to stare at the battle surgeon before making an irritated noise.
Then she darted forward, and used her forked tongue to lick Owen Harper in the face.
Even as the surgeon was making gagging noises and wiping the saliva from his cheek, Ianto practically choked on his laughter. Jack's own booming guffaws nearly drowned out Toshiko's tinkling chuckles. Myfanwy looked inordinately pleased with herself, moving away to a position near the top of Ianto's bedroll, then began to preen. Ianto could actually feel the glee radiating from the dragon, and as an experiment he sent back his approval.
A happy chirp signaled that she'd felt him as well, and she rested her head on his shoulder, beginning to purr contentedly.
"That was disgusting!" Owen shouted. "Keep her away from me, okay?"
"Aw, she just likes you, Owen," Jack chortled, trying to bring himself back under control.
"I'm not sure I want my dragon around Owen's sort," Ianto said, mock-seriously. "There have been times on this trip that I wished I had a daughter, so I could forbid her to date him."
"I wouldn't want to be seen with any of your devil-spawn, Jones," Owen answered snippily. "They'd probably be able to spin their heads all the way around and projectile vomit summer-pea soup or something unnatural like that."
With that parting shot, Owen proceeded to unwrap the bandage around Ianto's middle, using the light of the globe that Jack was holding to get a better look at the exposed wound. "Well, I'll be fucked," he said, shaking his head.
Ianto craned his neck, in order to see what Owen was on about. There was a finger-long gash on his stomach, but it was covered with a scab that appeared to be considerably older than a day. "I would assume it's not supposed to look like that."
"Yeah, you can assume that." The surgeon poked the area, and Ianto sucked in a breath when he hit a sensitive spot. "It looks about a week old, or more. Guess that magic of yours is gonna help you heal faster than normal."
"How much of the conversation did you hear?"
Owen carefully re-wrapped the bandage. "Pretty much all of it. Don't pretend to understand it, but it sounds like Harkness is stuck with you for a really long time."
Ianto smirked. "He might regret it…"
Jack pulled him against his chest. "Don't count on that."
The Wizard felt warmth flow through him at Jack's acceptance of what he was offering; he realized there would be no use to a long life if Jack wasn't there to share it with.
"So…you know about Jack then?"
"Yes," Toshiko answered. "He managed to get himself killed in front of us."
"Crossbow bolt to the face." Ianto felt Jack shiver against him. "I hate death by crossbow…"
"I'm sorry I wasn't there," Ianto murmured, resting a hand on the captain's arm. He recalled that Suzie had told him the same thing, that Jack had died.
"It's fine," the mercenary answered. "They didn't take it as badly as I thought they would."
"Yeah, well, it was more being angry at him not telling us," Owen said, pulling the blanket up over Ianto's chest, then sitting back, "than surprise at him actually being this mythical Deathless."
"We're your team, Jack," Toshiko said, also making herself comfortable. "We're your friends. We'll stand by you, no matter what. It was too bad though, that you missed Myfanwy in action."
"What happened?" Ianto felt the warmth of the dragon against him, curious to know just what she'd done.
"The moment Harkness went down," Owen replied, "she went off on those troops. Toasted them." There was admiration in his voice.
"Apparently Myfanwy can breathe fire," Jack translated.
"It was more than that," Toshiko added. "She changed."
Ianto stilled. "Changed? How?"
"It was as if she'd become living fire," the Elf explained. "I'm sure you're familiar with the legends of the Phoenix?" At Ianto's nod, she continued. "It was like that. Myfanwy began to glow, and then just burst into flames. The only thing that didn't change was her eyes."
Ianto was stunned. Of course, from what Jack had said dragons had powers, but he hadn't expected such a powerful response from Myfanwy. He wished he could have seen it.
"I thought she was as much a goner as Harkness," Owen put in. "After all, there aren't a lot of living things that can survive something like that. It was damned impressive."
"Then," Toshiko went on, "once the soldiers were dead, she went back to normal and stayed with Jack. She wouldn't let either one of us close to him until he revived."
Ianto reached back, to scratch his dragon's head. She rubbed against him happily; he could sense how she felt, and it seemed as if their empathic connection was becoming stronger. Thank you for saving them, he thought to her, not knowing if she could hear it.
"But, unfortunately we were so wrapped up with Jack's drama, we lost Suzie," the surgeon said.
Jack shifted under Ianto's back, and something told him that his lover was still a bit bothered by that. "Yes, she followed me here." He told them what happened during their confrontation.
"That begs the question," Jack said, "just what did you do to her?"
"I – " The thing was, Ianto didn't know. He'd felt the magic flowing through him as Suzie had attacked…then he remembered being stabbed, and putting his hands on her head…and then nothing. He shook his head. "I'm sorry; all this is still so new to me. I have no idea what I did. Can I see her?" Maybe if he could touch her, the Wizard could tell just what had happened.
Jack helped him stand; Ianto hated himself for needing it, but he was well aware that he'd been critically injured, and even though the Deep Ways were intent that he should still be alive, he still wasn't totally healed. He had to dislodge Myfanwy, and the dragon huffed at him, obviously irritated. He rubbed her head fondly, then let Jack lead him over to where they'd laid Suzie.
The first thing he noticed was her eyes.
Ianto shivered, and it wasn't because of the cold breeze that brushed against his bare torso. He knelt down beside her unresponsive form, placed trembling fingers on her temple. He was honestly terrified of what he'd find, because he just didn't know what he himself was capable of.
And he still remembered a bit of what he'd done with John Hart. He hadn't liked the man, after all he'd been responsible for kidnapping Ianto and killing Jack, but he was certainly glad he hadn't killed him. At least he hoped he hadn't killed him. He might never know.
Ianto pushed that thought out of his head, concentrating instead on Suzie. The Magic tingled at the back of his head, and in his fingers as he stroked her temple. He'd definitely used the Deep Ways to defend himself, but he couldn't tell how…
It was frustrating.
He blinked, bringing his magical vision forward. Using it, he could make out bands of power looping around Suzie's head and eyes, like some sort of otherworldly blindfold. The Wizard trailed his fingers across it, leaving trails in the golden light.
He tried everything he could think of. He attempted to unpick the spell, using the same technique that had served him so well on the traps in the tower. He sank his mind into it, as he'd done with the magical lock. He even fell back on his Catalyst ability, in order to see exactly what he'd done.
Nothing was working.
Finally, he pulled back, his head beginning to pound from the exertion. "I can't…" He looked at Jack, hoping the immortal wouldn't hold the maiming one of his people against him. "I'm sorry Jack…I don't know what I did." His shoulders slumped. "I never would have hurt her, you have to believe me…"
"I do." A comforting hand rested on Ianto's shoulder. "She was being influenced by the Artifacts."
"There wasn't anything you could do," Toshiko's soft voice added to Jack's. "It could have been any of us."
"You were just defending yourself," Owen said gruffly. "She was gonna kill you, and judging from the wound it would have been fatal if you weren't so full of magic that it protected you."
He couldn't believe they were forgiving him this easily. "I'll work it out," he vowed. "As long as it takes, I'll figure out a way to bring her back. I swear it."
"I have no doubt of it," Jack answered. "In the meantime, we should all be getting some rest. We have a long ride back to Cardiff, and I for one would like to get a start as soon as we can. Owen, are Ianto and Suzie up to traveling?"
Owen raked a hand through his hair. "Don't see why not. We'll have to lead Suzie's horse, and maybe tie her to her saddle, but she should be fine to move. Wizard-boy though," he turned to look at the younger man, "you're gonna be hurting. I have some pain-killing herbs you can have if it gets too bad."
"Thanks, Owen," Ianto said gratefully. "I think, at this point, I just want to get home. No offense to anyone, but I'm ready to be back in my Archives now."
A strange look passed across Jack's face, but was gone in an instant, making Ianto doubt that he actually saw anything.
It was dark. A cold, velvety darkness that had no beginning or end.
She could only see the dark…feel the dark…taste the dark…hear the dark. There was nothing else, and it pressed upon her mind like a heavy blanket, stifling even thought.
She wanted to scream, but no sound came from her open mouth, and the darkness used that opening to press into her very body…into her very soul.
She was being suffocated, yet not being allowed to die.
She couldn't even remember her own name.
How she got there, she didn't know, although there had been a bright, golden light that seemed to surround her…and then nothing. Literally nothing.
Time had no meaning in the darkness. It didn't even occur to her to try to keep track of how long it was that she'd been trapped there. All she knew was the darkness, and it consumed her.
But then, something moved…
This chapter is Explicit
The trip back to Haven was pretty much anti-climatic, in that no one else tried to attack them.
Jack spent most of his time keeping an eye on Ianto, making sure the younger man wasn't overdoing it. On the third day Ianto had caught him at it, and had fairly told him off for being a mother hen, but the captain was still marveling a bit that the archivist had survived Suzie's attack. He knew he had the Deep Magic to thank for that, even though he wasn't so sure he wanted to owe it anything.
His mind was still wrapping itself around what he'd been told, about the Deep Ways and how he was made Deathless. A part of him was still worried that he'd been somehow tainted by the Nameless Demons, but Ianto had done a good job at mostly reassuring him on that score. He still couldn't quite grasp what Rose had done, and how she'd done it; he'd always been so certain that it had been some sort of spell that had made him this way. But he'd seen evidence of what Ianto could do, and if he claimed that Rose had been the same then Jack would believe him. It almost went against what he'd been taught about the ancient power, but Ianto had explained that, as well; that the Wizards thought it was blasphemy to mess with the Deep Ways, and so convinced others of that as well. It didn't hurt that his belief that it was dangerous stemmed from his own fate. Even Ianto could understand Jack's ambivalence in that regard.
But then, Jack would look at Suzie, tied upright to her saddle so she wouldn't slide off, white eyes staring straight ahead, and all his previous opinions seemed all the more valid. And he knew that Ianto felt guilty about it, too.
Most of their conversation on the ride centered around Jack's Deathlessness and Ianto's magical ability. It took a little bit for the captain to be comfortable discussing it; he was so used to keeping his own council on the subject that opening up about it, but once he started it was hard to stop. Just having people to believe in him, and support him…it was like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Although, if Owen got any more supportive Jack was going to start looking for signs of the battle surgeon actually being a doppelganger…
The one thing that made Jack the happiest though, was the thought that Ianto was going to be around for a very long time. He'd always been very careful about who he would get close to, knowing he would lose them in the end. But now he wouldn't have to worry about that; what that would mean in the long run he didn't know. But Jack knew he wouldn't have to be as guarded around the young Wizard, that he could actually share more of himself, and that made his heart so very much lighter. Who knew what the future would hold; but the immortal didn't have to face it alone unless he chose to.
And honestly, Jack didn't see that happening.
The entire team seemed to be bonding. It made Jack wish that this mission wasn't ending, that Ianto wasn't going back to his duties at the castle. He really wanted Ianto to go with them when they left Cardiff, but knew that wouldn't happen. Ianto was too honorable, too willing to fulfill his contract to the Baroness. He would fit into the team seamlessly, even after the rough start he'd had…although a large part of that had been Jack's own fault. It was his own feeling that Ianto had outgrown Torchwood, and that staying there would stifle his potential.
And he really didn't want to think what the Baroness would plan once it got back to her that Ianto was a full-fledged Wizard. Gwen Williams was crafty; she wouldn't be Cardiff's ruler if she wasn't. There was no telling what she would do, in order to keep Ianto under her thumb. It made Jack shiver just considering it.
Two days out from Haven, they were met by a troop of Knights, led by the Knights' Master Lord Sir Anthony Hallet himself.
"Captain Harkness," the knight greeted, his smooth voice barely covering his obvious disdain.
Which was fine by Jack; he didn't like the man, either. "Lord Sir Hallet," he returned, false bonhomie in his salutation. "To what do we owe the pleasure of this meeting?"
"The Baroness sent us to meet you, after receiving intelligence that Lord Henry Parker had sent men to recover the object of your…errand."
Well, that explained who'd attacked them outside of Gateway. Jack was very familiar with the man; knew his passion for magic and magical items.
"She didn't need to worry," Jack breezed. "We took care of them."
Hallet raised one aristocratic eyebrow, as if he doubted Jack's claim. He glanced away from the captain, dark eyes alighting on Ianto. "Master Ianto," he nodded, this time respect tingeing his words. "I trust your mission was successful?"
"Some might disagree," Ianto answered, his own voice colder than Jack had ever heard from the man. "Although we did find what we were looking for."
The Knight looked slightly confused by the response, but covered it with a short nod. "We'll escort you back to Cardiff now. The mercenaries are no longer required."
"Now what a minute!' Owen exclaimed.
"Sorry," Jack said over his battle surgeon, "but it doesn't work that way. The mission we were given was to get Master Ianto and the…items…back to Cardiff. We haven't done that yet. And, no offense, but I don't trust you. You're not my people and you don't know the danger like we do. So, you're hardly qualified to complete this."
Hallet rolled his eyes. "Please…what possible danger is there? They're simply Artifacts, nothing more."
"Magical Artifacts," Ianto snapped. "You have no idea what you're dealing with, Lord Sir Hallet. Captain Harkness' team has first-hand knowledge of just how dangerous these Artifacts are. If you'd simply look closely at Mistress Costello, you'd see the effects they could have on your men."
Jack was so angry he didn't mind Ianto's slide from the truth where Suzie was concerned, both in her rank and in the reason for her catatonia. What right did the Baroness have to take this mission from his hands, when he and his people had been through so much to complete it?
A flaring of Hallet's eyes signaled his shock at Suzie's appearance. "Then it's imperative we get the Artifacts back to the castle," he finally said.
Jack could hear Ianto's barely stifled sigh. "What do you think we were doing?"
And so, they found themselves with an "honor guard" on the rest of their journey.
They stayed over in Haven.
Jack wasn't happy about it.
It wasn't about the staying over part that made him angry…it was the fact that Hallet insisted on Ianto staying at the local Knights' barracks instead of at the mercenaries' normal inn. The captain had planned on making use of the beds with the younger man, and that had put a major crimp in his plans to finally have some alone time with Ianto.
It was why he was currently stalking the streets, trying to distract himself from what he had envisioned would happen that night. He'd had thought about dinner, then a possible show or concert, whichever would be Ianto's choice…then back to the inn, where Jack had been looking forward to showing the archivist just how much he meant to him until morning.
But no…Lord Sir bloody Hallet had his men practically surround Ianto once they'd reached Haven and had bundled him and the Artifacts off like they were so much baggage to be taken care of. Jack had seen the look on the Wizard's face; Ianto hadn't been pleased, and Jack could imagine the words Hallet would have gotten over his high-handed treatment. He almost wished he could be an insect on the wall during that dressing down…
The captain sighed. This storming around and frightening the locals by his "furious" face wasn't getting him what he really wanted…and that was Ianto. His shoulders slumped in defeat. Maybe he should just go back to the inn and try to get a little rest. Perhaps give into some of his fantasies and have a good wank…
Jack collected a mug of ale and a sandwich on his way up to his usual room. He didn't have to worry about Owen showing up; he would have found one of the many brothels in town, easing his own tension in his own way. Tosh was visiting the Elven Guild while in town, and Suzie had been safely ensconced in the local healing hall.
He'd have the night entirely to himself, and that wasn't necessarily a good thing.
He juggled mug and plate while he unlocked the door. It was dark within; a sliver of moonlight was enough for Jack to see by as he set his dinner down on the closest surface and turned to shut the door behind him.
"It's about time you showed up."
Jack spun, his adrenaline surging at the unexpected voice; his eyes scanned the room, finding the source of the familiar accent as a shadow sitting up in bed. "Ianto?"
"Who else would it be?" The archivist sounded amused.
Jack grinned, leaning against the wall. "Just how did you get away from Hallet?"
The dark shape shifted slightly, coming into the moonlight. Jack's mouth went dry when he realized that Ianto wasn't wearing anything but the bed sheet. His blue-gold eyes glittered as they rolled. "I simply walked out of the barracks. Honestly, their security is appalling. If they hadn't locked up the Artifacts in their strong room, I would have brought them with me as well. As it is, I took the key to the room with me, to avoid anything any unpleasantness."
Jack laughed. "It should be interesting in the morning when they realize you're gone."
"Oh…do you intend for me to stay the entire night, then?" His teasing tone had a small undercurrent of uncertainty to it.
Jack sobered immediately. "Oh yeah. I do."
There was a flare from the gold encircling the Wizard's pupils; that circle had remained after his close call at Gateway. "Good. Because I intend to stay here until morning."
He could feel it; the call of the Deep Ways as he moved toward the bed. Seeing Ianto sitting there, his magical gaze on him, knowing that there was nothing between Jack and his ultimate goal but a sheet, was making his blood race through his veins and his cock twitch in anticipation.
Stopping just outside reach, Jack began to remove his clothes; he did it slowly, teasingly, and he could see Ianto's own arousal in the Wizard's suddenly glowing eyes. "Gods," the young man swallowed convulsively.
"Like what you see?" Jack whispered, as he finished undressing.
"You know I do. Get over here…please."
Jack was never one to deny that sort of request.
He slid onto the bed, pulling the sheet down in order to have better access to Ianto's naked body. He managed to reach over and twitch the curtain open a bit more, the better to see his lover's body. Ianto looked ethereal in the moonlight, pale skin and dark hair and golden- blue eyes.
Jack thought he was absolutely beautiful.
Gods, he so very much wanted this…
His lips found Ianto's, and the archivist's mouth fell open under the assault, the Deep Magic sparking as their tongues tangled in a dance as old as Time itself. Jack's hands roamed Ianto's bare chest, the softness of the other man's chest hair tickling his fingers. He looped one arm around the archivist's slim waist, the other hand trailing down to caress a nipple, wringing a gasp from his lover as it hardened under Jack's touch. That single sound drew Jack's mouth away from Ianto's, planting little kisses down the younger man's throat and neck, across the collarbone, and then finally alighting on the stiffened nipple.
He began to lick and suck the nipple, eliciting another gasp from Ianto. The Wizard's own hands caught in Jack's hair, holding him in place. His breathing was growing quicker under Jack's mouth, increasing the captain's own arousal.
Then Ianto pushed him away. Jack opened his mouth to protest, but then hands were pulling him back into another kiss, this one fiery with Magic and passion and need. Long fingers began their own exploration, stroking down Jack's smooth chest to tease the nipples. Jack arched into the feather-light touch, letting out his own moan, which grew louder when Ianto's own mouth began to lavish his own teeth and tongue on the hardened nubs.
Then Ianto was pushing Jack onto his back, looking down at the captain, his eyes glowing. Jack couldn't believe how gorgeous the Wizard was, his body striped with moonlight from the window. Ianto smiled, then leaned over and continued his ministrations to Jack's nipples, wringing more moans from the immortal, as well as a vague thought that, for a man who'd never really been with another man before, Ianto sure knew how to drive him crazy…
Jack felt a hand travel down, across his stomach, to rest at the base of his shaft; while Ianto's mouth was doing things to his right nipple that should have been illegal and were driving him insane. His hand wrapped around Jack's erection, stroking him lightly.
"Oh Gods," the mercenary managed to gasp, "what you do to me…please don't stop…"
"I won't," was the whispered reply. "I've been wanting to touch you for so long…"
Jack had intended on taking the lead, but Ianto seemed perfectly fine with what he was doing. It was a reversal of roles in a way; the captain prided himself on being an attentive lover, having hundreds of years of experience to back up his expertise. But what Ianto didn't have in the experience department he was more than making up in enthusiasm, and Jack was perfectly content to let him get on with it. He'd return the favor in a bit…
And then he didn't think much more, as Ianto's mouth left his sensitized nipples to travel down across abdomen and toward its new destination…his groin.
Jack wound his hand in the Wizard's hair, encouraging him on. Ianto leaned up a bit, planting a soft kiss on the weeping tip, the lightness of the touch almost sending Jack up off the bed. He could practically feel the smirk on those lips as they encircled Jack's straining erection.
It felt as if they had always meant to be there.
Jack wanted to scream, but nothing came out as his mouth opened and he flung his head back at the erotic feeling of his lover's mouth and tongue on his cock. He could feel his orgasm building, coiling up from a primal place within him that Jack had never really been aware of before.
He couldn't stand it any longer. He pulled Ianto up, and flipped him onto his back. Jack's fingers moved on Ianto's beautiful body, stroking and touching and drawing out the most delicious sounds from the younger man. He nipped and sucked downward, until he was in position to return the favor, and he went down on the Wizard's own penis.
It tasted heavenly.
Ianto gasped and wriggled under Jack's mouth, the gasps becoming moans of pleasure as the mercenary sucked and licked along that glorious length. He swirled his tongue around the slit at the tip, then laved his way down to the root. His hands cupped Ianto's balls, rolling them in talented fingers. As he worked, he could feel his orgasm growing closer, Ianto's pleasure adding to his own.
Then he licked one finger, and slid it carefully into Ianto's tight arse.
The Wizard jerked sharply, a small scream escaping his throat. Jack looked up, pulling his finger out, afraid that he'd hurt the younger man.
"No," came the strangled reply, "don't stop."
Jack did as Ianto bid. His mouth went back to work on the archivist's cock, as he gently slid his finger back into Ianto's body. He began to pump his finger in time with his sucking, and from the trembling he could tell that Ianto was enjoying it very much.
He crooked his finger, finding that one spot within and touching it lightly. Ianto jerked, his hands where they'd rested on Jack's head convulsed tightly, yanking on the immortal's hair almost painfully.
But Jack didn't care. He stroked again, and the noise that came from Ianto was half scream, half sob. The hands pulled even tighter, drawing him away from the Wizard's throbbing erection. "I want to come when you're inside me," Ianto moaned.
It was what Jack wanted more than anything, to fill his lover's beautiful body with his seed. Just thinking about it made him even harder, if that was possible.
He climbed up Ianto's quivering form, covering it with his own as he kissed the young man, sharing the taste of that glorious cock. Ianto reciprocated, moaning into the kiss as the familiar tingling passed between their mouths.
The captain broke away for a moment. "Are you sure you want this?"
Ianto met his gaze; those blue eyes were black with lust, their golden ring glittering against their darkness. "Yes," he whispered, stroking Jack's cheek with his fingers. "I've wanted you for so long…"
He pressed a quick kiss to those swollen lips, then reluctantly climbed off his lover in order to get to his pack. He was back in moments, holding a small ceramic jar. He slid back into place, kissing Ianto once again.
The sensation of their cocks rubbing against each other just about made him come right then and there. Jack moved, taking up position between Ianto's spread legs. He popped the cork from the jar, coating his fingers with the thick oil from within. He gently slid his finger back into Ianto's arse, adding a second and then a third, the Wizard thrusting backward against the intruding digits and mewling in pleasure.
When he judged that Ianto was prepared – he didn't want to risk hurting the young man – Jack removed his fingers and slicked up his aching cock. Ianto was watching him avidly, and the lust in that gaze just about sent Jack over the edge. He pulled the archivist's hips toward him a little, until he had the perfect angle.
Then he very slowly pushed himself inside Ianto's willing body.
Ianto cried out again, and this time Jack knew it wasn't from pain. His arse was so tight, it felt as if Jack was completely sheathed in heat. It was one of the most amazing sensations, and Jack didn't want to move.
But he did begin to thrust, slowly into that heavenly heat. He could feel his cock stroking that sweet spot within Ianto as he pushed in, and the sliding drove him past the point of no return.
The noises Ianto was making was only increasing Jack's own pleasure. He glanced down; the Wizard's eyes were closed, his breathing labored as he gasped and moaned at what Jack was doing to him.
Ianto's cock was so hard it wasn't even moving as Jack thrust. Freeing one hand from its grip on the young man's hip, the immortal curled his fist around the straining member and began to stroke him in time with his movements. "Come for me," he coaxed, adding a twist to the upward stroke of his fingers.
Even as he worked Ianto's cock, Jack could feel like his own was about to explode. He threw his head back, groaning. "Come with me," he gasped. His orgasm kept building within him, threatening to carry him on a wave of pleasure so intense he thought he could black out from it.
The final release was so powerful that Jack shouted, crying out Ianto's name even as he felt the archivist's own member pulse in his hand. Ianto exclaimed something in a language Jack didn't understand as his own climax hit, coating his own stomach with come.
Jack barely kept himself from collapsing onto his lover; he didn't want to pull his now spent cock from Ianto's arse, but knew he couldn't stay upright any longer. He curled up against the younger man's side, not caring that the pair of them were sweaty and mussed, or that Ianto's belly was covered with his release.
"Wow," Jack whispered, nuzzling against Ianto's neck.
"I think that's my line," the Wizard gasped, reaching over to lace his fingers through Jack's own.
"Just so you know," the mercenary said playfully, "this means you can't go dating any skanky whores behind my back…"
Ianto chuckled. "No...only rich, glamorous whores for me from now on."
Jack bit him gently on the shoulder. "See how you are."
"I'm not the one with the reputation, you know."
He sat up a bit, resting his chin on his hand so he could look down at his sated lover. "That's over with. I'm with you. Only you. You have my word."
"You don't have to – "
"No….but I want to." Jack smiled softly. "You're quite enough for me, Ianto Jones."
Ianto matched his smile with one of his own. "Quit being so sappy and let me get some rest."
Jack leaned down, kissing the Wizard gently. "Yes, sir."
"Thank you for all your help, Jack." Baroness Gwen Williams stood at the window in her reception room, her back to the mercenary and her words sounding distant.
Jack rolled his eyes. She'd been distracted ever since he'd entered the room, and it was irritating him. "That's all you have to say?" he goaded, wanting to get a rise out of her.
She turned, eyebrows raised. "You and your people did good work. I don't know what else you want me to say."
The mercenary ground his teeth in frustration. He'd been hoping that the Baroness would have at least acknowledged what had happened to Suzie. "Oh, I don't know…maybe an 'I'm sorry you almost lost your Second because of those damned Artifacts'?"
"You and your people knew the job was dangerous when you took it."
Jack glanced over toward the Baron; Rhys was regarding his wife closely, as if he were seeing something in her that he hadn't quite noticed before. Then he looked at Gwen once more. "That still doesn't dismiss the fact that Suzie will need special care for the rest of her natural life." He knew Ianto blamed himself for Suzie's state, but he'd only been defending himself against a professionally trained mercenary and had done what he'd needed. Besides, the Wizard would have died anyway, without the intercession from the Deep Magic.
They hadn't informed either Baron or Baroness of what had happened at Gateway. It had been impossible to hide the changes in Ianto; even if his eyes hadn't permanently changed, there was Myfanwy's presence, and explaining the dragon as something other than Ianto's familiar hadn't been possible. The speculative look in the Baroness' eyes had made Jack think back on the beginning of all this, and how she'd obviously considered Ianto Jones to be a valuable asset to Torchwood Castle. Jack had done the same, and it shamed him totally. Ianto wasn't an object; he was an intelligent, passionate man who deserved every bit of respect they could give him.
It made Jack more than convinced that what he had planned was the right thing to do.
"As I said," the Baroness replied, "these are risks that you mercenaries should find acceptable. You risk your lives all the time. This circumstance was no different."
"Fine." Jack drew himself up, to stand at attention. "Therefore, I'm invoking the hazard clause in my contract with Torchwood Castle and the Baronial line."
He'd never done that before; the hazard clause was standard wording in any employment contract, no matter the position the contractee held. Nearly every job he'd taken on for the Baroness had been dangerous to some degree, but this last one had nearly cost him his entire team…and the man he was swiftly developing feelings for. He was well aware that invoking such a clause could very well mean an end to his highly lucrative contract with the castle, but at that point Jack didn't care. He'd fully expected the Baroness to at least care that Suzie was catatonic. He couldn't very well claim the three times that Jack himself had died on the mission, since no one outside his team knew his true nature, but at the very least Gwen could have pretended to care!
"You what?" she fairly shrieked.
"You heard me. I'm invoking the hazard clause in my contract with Torchwood Castle. That entitles me and my team special bonuses for completing the mission and recompense for our injuries…to wit, Suzie's lifetime medical care. This is above and beyond any other bonuses we're owed for the successful return of the Artifacts and for keeping Master Archivist Ianto Jones safe." Inwardly Jack cringed; he was using Ianto as a bargaining chip in order to get their full pay, and it bothered him. He knew Ianto would understand but that didn't make it any less distasteful.
The Baroness crossed her arms belligerently. "He came back changed!"
"And you cannot honestly say you're disappointed in having the first Wizard born in centuries under contract with the castle."
"That's beside the point."
No, it wasn't, Jack rebutted silently.
"The bonuses were made null and void the moment Lord Henry Parker found out about your mission. Someone from you team sold you out to him!"
"None of my people would have betrayed me," Jack growled. They hadn't mentioned just how Lord Henry had known about the Artifacts; the captain had wanted to save Ianto the embarrassment, and it wasn't really his fault it had happened. Adam Smith had ambushed him, and what the Seer had done was nothing less than mind rape. "They are completely loyal." Suzie had been, until those damned Artifacts had gotten their hooks into her.
"How do you know that, Jack? How do you honestly know your merry little band didn't sell itself out to the highest bidder? That's what you mercenaries do, isn't it?"
It was all he could do to control the sudden urge to punch the Baroness in the face. "If that's what you think," he hissed, "then you have absolutely no concept of loyalty and honor. You should look to your own people, Your Grace. There are more reasons to distrust them than my hand-picked team." He was as much as intimating that there was a spy in the castle…let the woman chew on that for a bit!
His intensity caused the Baroness to take a step back. "My employees are completely trustworthy," she snapped. But there was a look in her eye, which said she was at least considering it.
Jack shrugged. Let her think what she would. He knew the truth. "I'm still invoking the clause. It doesn't matter what sort of mud you throw. And I'm quite sure the Mercenary's Guild will uphold my claim."
The Baroness stormed over to her writing desk. She quickly scribbled something on a piece of paper, used her personal seal to make it official, then practically threw it at Jack. "There!" she snarled. "See my exchequer; he'll give you what you deserve."
The captain had only seen her this angry once: the night of the Winter Festival, almost five years ago, when he'd refused her advances. After that, he and his team hadn't gotten a job from her in almost a year, but she'd obviously gotten over his rejection and they'd been on a firm working relationship ever since. Well, until now. With the evocation of the hazard clause, Jack seriously doubted she'd be as forgiving, just from the damage it would do to her reputation. No one wanted to work for someone who would knowingly put people in so much danger hazard pay was called for.
Coincidentally, that had been the same evening he'd met a certain apprentice archivist…
But her anger made what Jack had to say next all the more satisfying. "Oh, by the way…I understand that Master Ianto has four years, nine months, one week, and two days to go before his contracted employment time is up." Ianto had given him the exact figures last night, as they'd rested after a particularly energetic round of sex.
The Baroness narrowed her eyes at him. "So?"
"In four years, nine months, one week, and three days, I'll be here to collect him. He's a Wizard now, Your Grace, and staying here will only stifle his progression. He needs to find his own destiny, and it's not here."
"And you think it's with you?" she sneered.
Jack smiled widely. "I know it is."
"Gods, that ego of yours - !"
"Ego might have a bit to do with it," Jack conceded. "But I do know that Ianto Jones is better than just being hidden away in the Archives. He needs to learn about his heritage…and we both know why Torchwood Castle was founded in the first place."
That barb hit home. Baroness Gwen once again narrowed her eyes. "You've overstepped your bounds, Captain. I would suggest you leave before I change my mind about those bonuses and just throw you and your lot in the cells."
"That would certainly go over well with the guild." Jack didn't push it any further; instead, he bowed to her – the Baron had somehow snuck out of the room as they'd argued – then turned on his heel and left, his cloak billowing out around his calves.
He nodded to Master Andrew, who was sitting at his usual desk near the door. Andrew smirked and shook his head; Jack had no illusions about the man not having overheard everything. He and Gwen had certainly been loud enough at times.
The mercenary was out in the corridor when he heard someone calling his name. He turned; Baron Rhys was hurrying toward him, looking grim. Jack stifled a sigh. He'd really hoped to be able to get their pay and then meet Ianto without any more fuss…
"Your Grace," he greeted the man cordially, not wanting to piss him off as well.
"Captain," the Baron said, "I just wanted to apologize for all that. Usually Gwen is a lot more compassionate about people getting hurt."
Jack bit his lip to keep from saying something he'd regret. "There's no need to apologize – "
"Yeah, I think there is." He took a deep breath. "Look, I just wanted to tell you that I'll make sure your second gets the care she needs. I'm sure I can get her into Providence Park, and they'll look after her."
The mercenary opened and closed his mouth twice, a voice in the back of his head – and it sounded scarily like Ianto – telling him he looked like a beached fish, and to get on with it. "Thank you, Your Grace," he answered sincerely. Providence Park was a Baronial-run home for those who were hurt or damaged while in service to the Barony. Suzie would get the best of care there.
Baron Rhys waved his hand. "It's the least we can do. She was hurt while you were working for us; it's only right we take care of her."
In that moment, Jack realized he'd made a mistake in not getting to know the Baron any better. He'd made assumptions because of Rhys' marriage to Gwen that perhaps he shouldn't have. "Still, it's more than I thought we'd get." He bowed to the Baron, a deeper one than what he'd given the man's wife.
He went to leave, but the mercenary stopped, thinking that he owed this man something. "Your Grace…I just wanted you to know…no matter what the rumors say, I've never slept with the Baroness, either before or after your marriage." He met the Baron's eyes, needing him to believe what he was saying.
Baron Rhys stared at him for several moments, then nodded. "Thank you for telling me, Jack. I did wonder…"
"I'm only sorry I didn't say anything sooner."
One side of the Baron's mouth curled up in a smile. "No worries." The smile grew. "Although I suspect you can't say the same for Master Ianto…"
Jack returned the smile. He didn't say anything, simply raised two fingers to his forehead in a salute. Then, with a jaunty step, he headed back to where he knew Ianto was waiting.
Ianto stood at the parapet of the highest tower in the castle grounds, leaning against the sun-warmed stone. He looked out over the gardens, the plants losing their fall colors and getting ready for winter's first blast.
Myfanwy chirped from her perch on the very edge of the parapet, her head leaning forward and rubbing against Ianto's shoulder. He could feel her joy at being that high up, and in the sensation of the wind rustling her wings. She was a creature of fire, and wind…and freedom.
A freedom he didn't have.
The closer he'd gotten to Cardiff, the more he wished he could travel with Jack and the others permanently. But Ianto was too honorable, too wrapped up in duty to even consider breaking his contract.
Jack had pointed out to him that time didn't really matter to them anymore. They could both wait until his contract was up, and then travel. Ianto knew that Jack had made a valid point about the castle not being the best place to learn about his heritage; they'd talked long into the night last night, their first night back in Cardiff, after some pretty raucous sex that had left Ianto breathless and amazed at Jack's prowess. Of course, he had centuries of experience…
And this gave Ianto time to search the Archives for any information on Wizards. Torchwood Castle also had one of the most extensive libraries in the United Kingdom, and he could avail himself in a bit of research. Perhaps giving him a lead on where they could look once they left.
He didn't even need to see Jack to know the captain had come up the stairs and was walking toward him; he could feel the tingle of magic against his skin, and Myfanwy's reaction was enough to let him know he wasn't alone.
The dragon trilled a greeting, and Ianto heard Jack chuckle. "As long as she's around, I'll never be able to sneak up on you." The mercenary joined Ianto, standing close enough that the older man's warmth overwhelmed the sun. He bumped the archivist's shoulder playfully.
"Even without her," Ianto answered, "I doubt you could sneak up on me."
"You sound pretty confident."
"Nope. Just Magical."
They stood together in silence for a while, the breeze from the sea causing Jack's cloak to whip against their legs. It was so peaceful up there; the archivist didn't normally care for heights, but there was something about being on that tower with both Myfanwy and Jack made it feel normal for him.
Then Jack began to talk, telling Ianto about what had occurred in his meeting with the Baroness, and what the Baron had done for Suzie. Ianto wasn't overly surprised, by either reaction; having seen both Baron and Baroness in action, he could understand why they both had done what they had. "I would think your time as the Baroness' favorite mercenary are over," he said, when Jack had finished.
The captain shrugged. "You're worth losing a contract over."
The warmth Ianto felt in his chest didn't have anything to do with the sunlight.
"You could still decide to come with me," Jack went on.
"You know the answer to that."
"Yeah, I know." Jack bumped his shoulder once more. "We can wait. It's not that long, in the grand scheme of things. Besides, I'll be back. You won't get rid of me that easily, Ianto Jones." His fingers were gentle against the younger man's face. "Oh, and I meant what I told the Baron. There was nothing ever between the Baroness and myself. Sure, I flirted…"
Ianto rolled his eyes. "Please Jack…you flirt with everyone." Then he smiled slightly. "Besides, it doesn't matter. You're with me now."
"Yep. You're stuck with me."
"I wouldn't have it any other way."
With those words, Ianto pulled him into a kiss, reveling in the fact that the Magic had brought them together.
Baroness Gwen Williams looked out her reception room window. From her vantage point she could see the three figures on the tower across the garden; that damned dragon let out a cry that she could hear even with the windows closed, then launched itself from the parapet to fly over the castle grounds. The sound broke what was obviously a very passionate embrace between the other two, whom she knew were her Archivist and the mercenary Captain despite the distance.
Gwen could feel the anger building; along with another emotion that she swore wasn't jealousy. There had never been anything between Jack and herself except flirting. He'd ignored her efforts, and in fact had turned her down flat. She'd only let him back under contract in order to try once more.
Instead, he'd seduced her Master Archivist. Damn him.
She knew what she had to do. She had to somehow keep Ianto Jones from ever leaving Torchwood Castle.
As her Grandmamma Yvonne had been fond of saying: If it's magic, it's ours.
Ianto Jones was magic. Therefore, he was Torchwood's.
The darkness was smothering her.
She had no idea how long she'd been in the darkness, but then she didn't even know her name anymore. She was even beginning to question whether she was even a "she", since the darkness had consumed everything she was.
And so, when she was pulled out of the fugue state she'd fallen into by the strange sound, it went without saying that she was surprised.
After all, she hadn't expected to hear anything, ever again.
Especially the sound of drums…